Google exec hints of Android 5.0 release this fall

Pattern of earlier releases suggests fall, but Lockheimer says Google wants to be 'flexible' on timing

BARCELONA -- Google isn't offering much information about the forthcoming Android 5.0, even though there are rumors saying that the new version of the operating system will be available on a smartphone by early summer.

It's more likely that it will be rolled out in the fall, based on comments made by Hiroshi Lockheimer, vice president of engineering for mobile at Google. He spoke with Computerworld at Mobile World Congress here on Monday.

"After Android 4 comes 5, and we haven't announced the timing yet, which we're still sorting out," Lockheimer said. "There's a lot of engineering work behind it still, and there's also just the question of how to time it."

Lockheimer added: "In general, the Android release cadence is one major release a year with some maintenance releases that are substantial still." That statement would suggest a fall 2012 time frame for the release of Android 5.0, given that Android 4.0 was released last November, he acknowledged.

Nonetheless, Lockheimer added a caveat: "Having said that, we're flexible. The [timing of releases] is not what drives us, but what does is innovation and offering users a great experience."

Lockheimer wouldn't divulge the dessert that will be used as a code name for Android 5.0, which follows Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), as Version 4.0 is known. Google is already getting suggestions for sweets that begin with the letter J, he said. Earlier versions of the mobile operating system were called Cup Cake (1.5) , Donut (2.0), Eclair (2.1), Froyo (2.2), Gingerbread (2.3) and Honeycomb (3.0).

Google is still enjoying the success of Android 4.0, a version that was well received by developers and users. At MWC, the large Google exhibit area, located in the back corner of a major exhibition hall, was crowded with visitors who wanted to see dozens of Google partners show off their ICS-related applications.

One Google partner, Wyse Technologies, uses Android Beam technology in ICS to run its NFC software, which is designed to initiate file transfers between devices.

Wyse employees placed one Galaxy Nexus phone near another Galaxy Nexus phone to give the second device permission to access a file kept in the cloud or on a PC. The actual download of the file to the second phone was sent over Wi-Fi, but a 3G network or other wireless signal could be used. NFC is too constrained to transfer the actual file, they said.

Lockheimer said Android Beam has led to dozens of other applications, many of them sold in Android Market, including an app that allows two users to share a video by bringing two NFC phones close together, even when the clip is in midstream. StumbleUpon demonstrated a similar technology at its booth inside the Google exhibit area.

Lockheimer listed several improvements in Ice Cream Sandwich that have been popular with users, including data-usage and battery-usage meters and widgets on the home screen.

While ICS was center stage at Google's booth, many users have expressed frustration that the operating system's new features are not yet available on devices running older Android versions. Lockheimer acknowledged that there is frustration over receiving ICS upgrades in a timely manner, which was why the Android Upgrade Alliance was announced at last year's Google I/O conference. The premise of the group was that phone manufacturers and wireless carriers would provide timely upgrades of devices during their first 18 months on the market.

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