First Look: Google Android
Google’s mobile operating system, Android, might not be available on commercial handsets yet, but the recently released SDK includes an emulator, allowing us to get a feel for how Google’s latest project is progressing.
On the emulator the loading screen remains present only for a few seconds before the main menu is displayed, though boot time is liable to vary from handset to handset.
The main menu screen is reminiscent of Apple’s Dock system, featuring a row of icons that can be scrolled left and right with the directional buttons.
The central icon is slightly magnified to make it clear that this is selected, and pressing the central button will load that application.
In the current version of the emulator the SMS feature is disabled, but it does allow users to make mock phone calls to a list of contacts to get a feel for the final experience.
The interface is very simple; in a phone call the screen shows a small picture of the contact along with the name and phone number of that person.
Icons on the bottom of the screen give mute and speaker phone options, as well as hold, add call and end buttons.
Adding another call brings up an identical screen, which is layered on top of the previous call in a transparent tab. Two or more calls can be easily merged to create a conference call with just one click.
Videos from Google that show the SMS interface suggest that messages will be shown in a conversational and threaded format, much like an instant message conversation.
The provided browser is based on Webkit, and so is the same as that which ships with the iPhone and Series 60 Nokia phones. It provides a “real web” experience, and can zoom in or out easily.
Obviously, with the emulator you have a broadband connection, so actual handset performance will vary, but we found the interface simple and intuitive.
Zooming out for an overview and in for details and text can be done through the menu, but handsets with a scroll wheel will be particularly comfortable.
The contacts application is also minimal and simple to use. A wide range of information can be stored under each contact, and there’s helpful integration between this and the Maps application.
If an address is stored for a contact then it’s possible to click an icon and be taken directly to a screen showing that address. From within Maps it is also possible to click on a contact name to input their address as the start or end point for directions.
The Maps application provides all the functionality of the web service, and can view road, satellite and street views. It’s also easy to search for directions, and to see this route overlaid on the map.
You can scroll from one checkpoint to the next with the 1 and 3 buttons, or view a textual description of the route overlaid on the map.
As of yet the list of features is small, even though all of the standard mobile phone operations are covered.
The open nature of the platform and the recent release of an SDK means a large collection of third party applications will soon be available, due in no small part to Google’s announcement of a $10 million prize fund to be split among the best.