Google Shows Off Android

New features include touch-screen and compass capabilities.

SAN FRANCISCO-Google is showing new features for its Android mobile phone software, including touch-screen technology, compass capabilities and games.

However, officials would not give a final date for release of the technology.

At the Google I/O developer conference here May 28, Steve Horowitz, engineering director for Android, demonstrated the touch-screen capabilities by using a swiping gesture to light up dots on the demo phone in the form of a "G" to unlock the phone for use. He said users could set up whatever gesture they wanted to serve as a "password" to unlock the phone.

Yet while Android supports touch-screens, they are not necessarily a must on all devices.

"It depends on the hardware," said Andy Rubin, Android tech lead at Google. "The feeling is if you have an app on your desktop, there shouldn't be any reason you can't run it on your handset."

Meanwhile, during a keynote address, Horowitz demonstrated Google Street View on the phone and displayed the new compass features of the technology where the Street View screen followed the direction of the user and turned left or right with the person holding the phone. Google Street View is a feature of Google Maps and Google Earth that provides 360-degree panoramic street-level views and allows users to view parts of selected cities and their surrounding metropolitan areas at ground level.

He also showed zooming features for magnifying things on the Android screen, a new notification system for calendar events, missed calls or new e-mail, a desktop-like application launcher and a version of the Pac-Man game.

Although Google and the OHA (Open Handset Alliance) of 34 companies developing Android have been criticized for not opening up development of the platform, Rubin said he still considers it an open-source effort in that the OHA will release the code to the community once it is finalized.

Rubin said there are different types of open-source projects.

"We think there's a window where there is a need for an open system," he said. "And we said it would be better to do this in a structured way with the 34 companies in OHA and then open it [Android] up."

Android is a software stack for mobile devices that includes an operating system, middleware and key applications. It consists of a Linux kernel, a set of core libraries that provides most of the functionality available in the core libraries of the Java programming language, a set of C/C++ libraries, an application framework and a set of core applications. Android also features an integrated browser based on the open-source WebKit browser engine.

"I think the old model of looking at this was the browser wars; now we're seeing the hot soup of innovation," said Vic Gundotra, vice president of engineering at Google.

Rubin said the Android technology should be ready to ship in the second half of 2008.