A quick guide to Google’s 1.5 Cupcake update

What is it?
It’s the second version of the Google developed open source operating system for mobile phones. This new version was first seen in the second Android handset from HTC called the Magic, on the Vodafone network in the UK and Verizon in the USA. Soon after that, it was provided as an update to the very first mobile running the platform from T-Mobile, the G1.

There have been many overall improvements in the latest version, from its performance, down to a better overall user interface and a host of new features, all of which were included in this release

What are the variations of the technology?
As this is the second version of the operating system to be made public, there are now just two versions and therefore the only variations now in existence of the mobile platform. These are really the only options around today, but the features may differ from handset to handset.

It’s down to the individual operator and phone manufacture as to which abilities of the OS are enabled, disabled, further worked on, improved or customised for their particular handset and network – this is where an additional variation may come in to play.

Why should I care?
Google had already produced a good operating system for a mobile phone and in their very first attempt, version 1.5 just adds to the overall usefulness.

On the whole they’ve improved on the user interface, which isn’t all that noticeable at first glance, but they have refined the OS if you’ve experienced or used the T-Mobile G1. Everything from basic web browsing, to copy and paste and the built in Google services such as Gmail, Calendar and SMS options are all better integrated along with being improved.

Noticeable, is that the accelerometer has now been worked into more applications on the phone, from the likes of the onscreen virtual keyboard now present, which is also automatically displayed in landscape mode as result. On that note, it’s the first time there’s been an onscreen virtual keyboard, as it was missing from the first version presumably due to a physical keyboard being present in the original hardware.

There’s an overall performance step up, clearly seen if compared side by side, all of which is very evident after some time in use. Some of the noted aspects that plagued the first version of Android have been worked on once again, from the accessing of satellites used in their Google maps, down to the camera’s speed in operation.

Other aspects of the reworked user interface relate to widgets, the use of video recording being possible with instant posting to sites, whilst Bluetooth stereo audio is now present along with a new Linux Kernel.

What's a good example in practice?
The latest handset by HTC, who was also the manufacture of the very first Android mobile, now has the new OS deployed on both of its phones. The HTC Magic on the Vodafone network shipped with version 1.5, where the T-Mobile G1 handset was offered an update later.

Although the T-Mobile G1 doesn’t bear the name HTC, it was still very much at the heart of the design process with T-Mobile also having a hand to play. As it’s been confirmed HTC really wanted a T-Mobile sidekick looking handset, running on the Google platform.

More Android powered handsets are due out this year, from the likes of Samsung, Motorola and Sony Ericsson – which will all presumably be running version 1.5 at the time of arrival.

Is there a competing technology that I should be aware of?
There are a few other well known platforms for mobile phones, with the key ones being Windows Mobile from Microsoft and Symbian from Nokia. The latter, in more recent times, has made a big move towards an open source model since being acquired by Nokia and it’s here that it could be a competitor to Google’s Android.

What is in store for the future?
There is set to be a number of phones due out this year all running on Android, which will undoubtedly be based on the new version of the Google platform. We’ve already mentioned some key companies, with more minor ones set to be showing a keen interest in handsets of this ilk.

The likes of Acer and Lenovo are said to be releasing handsets later this year, based on the open source OS, although not all will be available in the UK or everywhere in the world. It’s been reported that Lenovo, who are a much larger company, with a distinct presence in Japan than elsewhere in the world, will have a mobile for that very country alone.

It’s also been said that other companies are even finding uses for Android outside of just a mobile operating system platform. Archos, a company well known for their versatile portable media players and the multiple generations of them, are producing a multimedia tablet device running from the Google OS. This could open up new avenues and angles for the development of Android, further beyond the handset limitations.