The Android 2.3 update has now been officially announced by Google, along with the first Android 2.3 handset.
The new mobile OS was first shown off at the Web 2.0 summit on 15 November by Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
Google had previously hinted on 12 November that the Android 2.3 release date was close, tweeting a photo of a pile of Android gingerbread men, with the message "Our cafes are baking something sweet".
And now Gingerbread is out of the oven. Google says on its Android Developers' site that "the Android 2.3 platform introduces many new and exciting features for users and developers."
Read on to find out everything you need to know about Android 2.3.
Android 2.3 release date
The Android 2.3 release date is pre-Christmas if you grab the new Nexus S. There's no word yet on when it will be available as an over the air update for existing handsets, but we imagine it won't be far behind, although it will be interesting to see if any handsets get left behind by the new update.
We'll be plotting the Android 2.3 rollout for different handsets and operators in our Android 2.3 release date: when will you get it? post.
The HTC Desire 2.3 update is now here - check outHow to install your HTC Desire to Android 2.3
Android 2.3 features and specifications
Android 2.3 features include improved copy and paste and support for WebM video playback. The WebM Project confirmed that "WebM support in Android is expected in the Gingerbread release". WebM files are compressed with the VP8 video codec, which Google purchased and open-sourced earlier this year.
Google has confirmed that "the platform now offers built-in support for the VP8 open video compression format and the WebM open container format."
In terms of copy and paste, Android now has one-touch word selection. Pressing on a word enters a free-selection mode - you can adjust the selection area as needed by dragging a set of bounding arrows to new positions, then copy the bounded area by pressing anywhere in the selection area.
And it's goodbye to trackballs with new Android 2.3 handsets, too. For text entry, you can slide-press to enter a cursor mode, then reposition the cursor easily and accurately by dragging the cursor arrow. With both the selection and cursor modes, no use of a trackball is needed, says Google.
You can see it in action here.
Android 2.3 also features support for VOIP/SIP calling, and for Near Field Communication (NFC) which lets your phone read information from objects when you press it against a reader.
You can add a SIP address to any Contact and you can call them right from the dialler. Phone manufacturers and carriers will have control over this feature though, so it will depend on whether your carrier is being nice or not.
As for the NFC, it's from NXP (formerly Philips Semiconductors). They're the guys responsible for London's Oyster cards. The NFC chip will need to have been put into the device by the manufacturer of course, so not all Android 2.3 devices will have this functionality.
Multiple cameras are also now supported, including front-facing cameras. The OS can automatically choose which camera is the best for the particular application, such as taking photos or video calling.
There's also now a Downloads application that gives the user easy access to any file downloaded from the browser, email, or another application.
According to Google, "Downloads is built on an completely new download manager facility in the system that any other applications can use, to more easily manage and store their downloads."
Android 2.3 user interface
Android 2.3 also features an updated user interface. The Android Developers' page explains that "a simplified visual theme of colors against black brings vividness and contrast to the notification bar, menus, and other parts of the UI. Changes in menus and settings make it easier for the user to navigate and control the features of the system and device."
The Android keyboard has been redesigned with reshaped keys which aim to speed up text entry. The keyboard now features multi-touch support enabling you to quickly enter numbers and symbols by pressing Shift+<letter> and ?123+<symbol>, without needing to manually switch input modes.
The keyboard also displays the current character and dictionary suggestions in a larger, more vivid style that is easier to read.
See the video below to check it out:
Coincidentally, Android 2.3 also includes updated video drivers that improve the efficiency of OpenGL ES operations, for faster overall 3D graphics performance. The Linux Kernel has also been updated to 2.6.35 while the audio has also been improved.
Android 2.3 battery life
Android battery life has been criticised in the past, and Google says that Android 2.3 "takes a more active role in managing apps that are keeping the device awake for too long or that are consuming CPU while running in the background."
The system will "manage" these apps and close them if appropriate to "ensure best possible performance and maximum battery life."
Google adds that: "The system also gives the user more visibility over the power being consumed by system components and running apps. The Application settings provides an accurate overview of how the battery is being used, with details of the usage and relative power consumed by each component or application."
Android 2.3 phones
The first Android 2.3 phone to go on sale is the successor to the Nexus One, called the Google Nexus S. It features 16GB of internal memory, a 1GHz processor, a 4" screen and NFC support.
You can see Android 2.3 in action on the Nexus S below:
Nexus One Android 2.3
Android 2.3 could also be coming to the Nexus One soon. In a tweet on 7 November Alvaro Vasquez of the Open Handset Alliance said: "Prepare your Nexus One (Developer version) for Android OTA update 2.3 (Gingerbread) for the next few days:-D". [Translated from original language]
HTC Desire Android 2.3
We're already seeing a whole load of tweets asking when the Android 2.3 update will be coming to the HTC Desire. We'll bring you more on that as we get it.
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