Netflix addition, "Ice Cream Sandwich" highlight busy week for Android

Google's I/O conference unleashed a flurry of Android news this week, including some long-awaited new applications and updates to the operating system itself.

RELATED: Google's Android tablet update: Four PC-like features

Here were the biggest Android stories of the past week:

* "Ice Cream Sandwich" gets official: Google is hoping that its soon-to-be-released Android update, dubbed "Ice Cream Sandwich," will be the One Ring of Android updates; in other words, it will be the first version of Android that will unify the multiple versions of its mobile operating system. Google's goal in designing "Ice Cream Sandwich" will be to make an operating system that can adapt to the multiple types of Android devices, whether it's a smaller-screen phone like the Droid Pro, a large-screen phone like the Droid X or a tablet like the Motorola Xoom. Fragmentation has been a problem for Android application developers, who have complained that they have no way of knowing whether the apps they design will work effectively across multiple platforms. There is no timetable for when Ice Cream Sandwich will be pushed out to Android devices, but it's likely to come sometime this summer.

* "Honeycomb" gets an upgrade: Google also released an update to its Android 3.0 ("Honeycomb") tablet operating system this week, with several features intended to make Android tablets function more like PCs. Among other things, the new Honeycomb will allow for both USB and Bluetooth HID connectivity for keyboards, mice and other personal computing staples; an expanded list of recently used applications to provide users greater access to their favorite applications; and stronger Wi-Fi connectivity to allow Android tablets to remain connected to hotspots even when the device screen flips off. These Honeycomb updates have come two months after Google announced Honeycomb would get Flash support, thus giving users access to videos and games used widely across the Web.

* Netflix coming to Android: Yes, Android-loving movie fans, you no longer need to rely on your friends' iPhones to get a mobile Netflix application. The app is slow-rolling out to Android phones and is so far only available on the HTC Incredible, the Nexus One and Nexus S models, the HTC EVO 4G and the T-Mobile G2 smartphones. According to GigaOM, Netflix is only launching on a limited number of devices due to the issues with Android fragmentation (see the impetus for "Ice Cream Sandwich" posted above).

"Because the platform has evolved so rapidly, there are some significant challenges associated with developing a streaming video application for this ecosystem," said Netflix product manager Roma De, according to GigaOM. "One of these challenges is the lack of standard streaming playback features that the Netflix application can use to gain broad penetration across all available Android phones.

* Google adds more input into Android Market: Google is trying to create a lot more visibility for a wider variety of apps on its Android Market by ranking the top mobile applications by country, by having a "trending apps" section featuring apps whose downloads have grown rapidly and an "Editor's Choice" list with picks from various members of the Google staff. In case you're curious, the top trending app as of this writing is Tetris Deluxe while the top "Editor's Pick" for this week is Air Attack HD.

* Flash 10.3 out for Android 2.2 and above: And finally, Adobe released the 10.3 version of its Flash Player for Android this week, thus patching some of the security issues Adobe found in earlier versions of the software. Supporting Flash has been one of the key features that both Android and Research in Motion's BlackBerry OS have touted to differentiate themselves from Apple's smartphones and tablets, which don't currently support Flash.

Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.

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