Software Features and API Level

The Android OS periodically rolls out new features, enhancements such as improved efficiency, and bug fixes.A main driver in OS improvement is the increased capability of hardware on new devices. In fact, major releases of the OS are generally coordinated with new hardware roll-outs (such as Eclair's release with Droid).

Some legacy Android devices cannot support the new version requirements and are not updated with new OS releases.This leads to a user base with a variety of different possible experiences.The developer is left with the task of checking for device capability or at least warning devices of required features.This can be done through a check of a single number: the API level.

The following summarizes the different OS releases and main features from a developer's perspective:

Cupcake: Android OS 1.5, API level 3, Released April 30, 2009

■ Smart virtual (soft) keyboard, support for third-party keyboards.

■ AppWidget framework.

■ Raw audio recording and playback.

■ Interactive MIDI playback engine.

■ Video recording APIs.

■ Stereo Bluetooth support.

■ Removed end-user root access (unless tethered to computer and using SDK).

■ Speech recognition via RecognizerIntent (cloud service).

■ Faster GPS location gathering (using AGPS).

Donut: Android OS 1.6, API Level 4, Released September 15, 2009

■ Support for multiple screen sizes.

■ Integrate with the Quick Search Box using the SearchManager.

■ Virtual Private Network (VPN) support.

Eclair: Android OS 2.0, API Level 5, Released October 26, 2009

Android OS 2.0.1, API Level 6, Released December 3, 2009 Android OS 2.1, API Level 7, Released January 12, 2010

■ Sync adapter APIs to connect to any backend.

■ Embed Quick Contact accessible in applications.

■ Applications can control the Bluetooth connection to devices.

■ Microsoft Exchange support.

■ Multitouch is accessible through the MotionEvent class.

■ Animated wallpaper support.

FroYo: Android OS 2.2, API Level 8, Released May 20, 2010

■ Just-In-Time compilation (JIT) enabled, leading to faster code execution.

■ Voice dialing using Bluetooth.

■ Better definition of multitouch events.

■ Applications can request to be installed on the SD memory card.

■ Wi-Fi tether support on select devices.

■ Thumbnail utility for videos and images.

■ Multiple language support on keyboard input.

■ Application error reporting for Market apps.

Android is starting to mature in that releases are less frequent. Although possible, the over-the-air updates are logistically tricky and carriers prefer to avoid them. Hardware manufacturers also appreciate a level of stability, which does not mean the first flashed devices in stores need an immediate update. However, when a release is made, the level of additional features for developers remains high and worthwhile to utilize.

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