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Google to developers: Heads up for Android Ice Cream Sandwich

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Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is warning developers to make certain their applications are ready for Ice Cream Sandwich, the next major upgrade of the company's Android mobile operating system, which is expected sometime in October or November. Posting on the Android Developers Blog, developer.android.com lead tech writer Scott Main offers a series of suggestions, guidelines and code samples to enable more seamless transition of apps written for the tablet-only Honeycomb (a.k.a. Android 3.0) to the device-agnostic Ice Cream Sandwich, instructing them to begin thinking now about how their apps will function on smaller smartphone screens.

"Although Honeycomb remains tablets-only, the upcoming Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) release will support big screens, small screens, and everything in between. This is the way Android will stay from now on: the same version runs on all screen sizes," Main states. "Some Honeycomb apps assume that they'll run only on a large screen, and have baked that into their designs. This assumption is currently true, but will become false with the arrival of ICS, because Android apps are forward-compatible--an app developed for Honeycomb is compatible with a device running ICS, which could be a tablet, a phone, or something else. So, if you've developed a tablet app on Honeycomb, it's important that your app do one of two things: prevent installation on smaller screens or (preferably) support smaller screens with the same APK."

Comments made earlier this month by Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt suggest Ice Cream Sandwich could arrive as early as next month. Speaking at the Dreamforce conference in San Francisco two weeks ago, Schmidt said "We have a new operating system, internally known as Ice Cream Sandwich for some reason, which is being released in October/November, which everyone's really excited about."

Google first confirmed Ice Cream Sandwich's launch during its annual I/O developer conference in May, stating it would unveil the update sometime during the fourth quarter. Google promises Ice Cream Sandwich will deliver the tablet-optimized innovations introduced in its Android 3.0 Honeycomb update to all devices running Android in an effort to reduce platform fragmentation: "We want one OS that runs everywhere," Android engineer Mike Claren told the I/O audience. "We're going to take all the good stuff in Honeycomb and make it available everywhere."

Although additional details on Ice Cream Sandwich remain scarce, Claren said Google will invest "heavily" in the platform's API framework, "adding new APIs and intelligence" as well as development tools. Google also stated Ice Cream Sandwich Source will be completely open-source--the company courted controversy earlier this year when it restricted access to Honeycomb's source code because the update was not designed for implementation across smartphones. "We did an internal trick to make the Honeycomb schedule--we took a shortcut, and didn't release it for smartphones," Google SVP of mobile Andy Rubin said during a media Q&A at the I/O event. "We didn't make it open-source because we didn't want people to wedge it onto phones."

Android dominates 41.8 percent of the U.S. smartphone market as of July 2011 according to data issued last month by research firm comScore. Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS is next at 27.0 percent, followed by Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) fading BlackBerry at 21.7 percent.

For more:
- read this Android Developers Blog entry

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ComScore: Almost 70% of U.S. smartphones run Android or iOS