Android Gingerbread Out of the Oven This Week

The next version of Android appears imminent, according to a tweet from a leader in the Open Handset Alliance. Alvaro Fuentes Vasquez, a member of the leadership team for the OHA, which oversees the Android platform, told people on Twitter to “Prepare your Nexus One (Developer Version) for Android OTA update 2.3 (Gingerbread) for the next few days,” according to a translation from Google Translate. This means that developers should be able to get the update over the air and Nexus One users see something soon thereafter. The timing seems to fit with an earlier rumor that Gingerbread would be unveiled this Thursday, and coincides with the recent delivery of a Gingerbread man to the Google campus. It also puts to rest rumors that Google was poised to first release the next version of Android on a Nexus Two device, which TechCrunch says is now delayed due to hardware issues.

What will 2.3 bring for users? Well, it’s reportedly a refinement of the interface’s look to the point that it might render moot some of the custom skins that companies like Motorola and HTC have employed. The icons are supposed to look more consistent and the notification bar will get a redesign. There will also be kinetic scrolling with a bouncy effect when you reach the end of a list and more shades of green weaved into the interface in keeping with the green Android look. The new operating system will also reportedly support video chat using the Google Talk protocol. Google’s vice president of engineering Andy Rubin hinted in an interview with PC Magazine that Gingerbread will be faster and include more social communications and a better gaming experience.

This continues Google’s quick pace of platform updates, though it will take months before existing Android phones make the jump up. This will start the update cycle again for manufacturers and leave existing users wondering when they can get the latest software, a guessing game few consumers enjoy. Last month, Google announced that 74 percent of Android users were running 2.1 or 2.2.

Gingerbread should help address some of the needs of the Android platform, giving it a facelift that should help it stand up better to the iPhone (s aapl) and the newly launched Windows Phone 7 (s msft). It may be a stretch to think it can kill off custom interfaces but Gingerbread could convince some manufacturers to lean more on the stock OS, which in turn could speed up updates to users. Any improvements to gaming would be helpful for Android, which is still lacking for enthusiasm as a gaming platform. And if Google can include video chat right into the OS, it will be a nice counterpoint to Apple’s FaceTime, which has become a selling point for the iPhone 4 and the iPod Touch. Android is already on a roll when it comes to adoption. But the new improvements could add more polish to a platform that is still maturing and it should eventually give users more flexibility for their existing handsets.

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