Google's Android Ice Cream Sandwich update coming in Q4

SAN FRANCISCO--Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) confirmed it will unveil the next major upgrade of its Android mobile operating system sometime in the fourth quarter of 2011. Nicknamed "Ice Cream Sandwich" in keeping with the dessert-centric theme of previous Android overhauls, the update represents "our most ambitious release to date" according to Android engineer Mike Claren, speaking here during Google's annual I/O developer conference.

Google promises Ice Cream Sandwich will deliver the tablet-optimized innovations introduced in Google's Android 3.0 Honeycomb update to all devices running Android in an effort to reduce platform fragmentation. "We want one OS that runs everywhere," Claren said. "We're going to take all the good stuff in Honeycomb and make it available everywhere." Among Honeycomb's breakthroughs: A holographic UI theme alongside a new interaction model building on signature features like multitasking, notifications and widgets.

Although additional details on Ice Cream Sandwich are scarce, Claren said Google will invest "heavily" in the platform's API framework, "adding new APIs and intelligence" as well as development tools. Google demoed two new features coming in Ice Cream Sandwich: A video tool that exaggerates and distorts live images (similar to funhouse mirrors) as well as what the company called "virtual camera operator," a videoconferencing feature that automatically focuses the device camera on the person speaking.

Google also stated Ice Cream Sandwich Source will be completely open-source. The company courted controversy earlier this year when it restricted access to Honeycomb's source code because the update was not designed for implementation across smartphones. "We did an internal trick to make the Honeycomb schedule--we took a shortcut, and didn't release it for smartphones," Google SVP of mobile Andy Rubin said during a media Q&A following this morning's I/O keynote. "We didn't make it open-source because we didn't want people to wedge it onto phones."

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