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Android 2 looms as Samsung promises US launch in Q2

Google’s Android Linux-based platform was widely criticized for being rushed out the door this year, with many key features half-baked, but the company is racing to enhance the system before many device makers release their first products. And it seems that Samsung will be the first tier one handset maker to release an Android phone, pipping Motorola, Huawei and Sony Ericsson to the post with a Q2 launch in the US planned.

Google’s Android Linux-based platform was widely criticized for being rushed out the door this year, with many key features half-baked, but the company is racing to enhance the system before many device makers release their first products. And it seems that Samsung will be the first tier one handset maker to release an Android phone, pipping Motorola, Huawei and Sony Ericsson to the post with a Q2 launch in the US planned.

Samsung, according to Korean news sources, has an 80-strong development team working on its first Android phone, but this will be initially targeted at the US – where Android is making its most serious impact so far – rather than its home territory. The handset is likely to look like Samsung’s other touchscreens, and incorporate design features from the Omnia and Instinct.

It is expected to release its handset with Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA, and this could be the first CDMA Android offering, and the first major Android-based launch at Sprint, which is a founding member of the Open Handset Alliance (the platform’s industry support group) but has been ambivalent about whether the software system is yet mature enough to carry the Sprint brand.

Google has listened to such comments from operators and developers and is racing to make Android a fully fledged mobile internet platform that can compete effectively with Symbian and LiMo. A development codenamed ‘Cupcake’ will put some features that have come from Google itself or its private developer branch of Android, into open source and the mainstream platform (though the private activity, a source of criticism of the platform, will continue).

The Cupcake improvements will be incorporated into Android early in January. Some are bug fixes, affecting elements such as email, conversation-list scrolling, and the alarm clock. Brand new features will include the ability to save MMS attachments and the Linux kernel has been upgraded to version 2.6.27, including “basic x86 support”. Also, the WebKit browser core has been updated, and support for the new SquirrelFish JavaScript engine added. Camera functionality has received a major boost, with the addition of video capture, and download capabilities are also enhanced, with support for pause and resume. Other features will include virtual keyboards, APIs for developers to create their own input methods, a new API for speech recognition, and A2DP stereo Bluetooth support.

The first phone to feature all these changes is likely to be a T-Mobile ‘G2’, made – like the G1 – by HTC. This will reportedly debut on January 26, with a 5-megapixel autofocus camera, VGA camera for video calls, full touchscreen and Wi-Fi connectivity, according to blogs (though others say the phone will not be released until April, about the same time as the Samsung offering).