We’ve heard countless reports that it’s out there. We know it’s still in development and we know some Googlers have it loaded onto their Nexus Ones. I’m talking about the Android Gingerbread update, of course, and we can finally bring you the first details regarding the next iteration courtesy of our trusted source close to Google. The biggest change – outside of built-in video chat support (more on that later) – that many have been wondering about has been a possible graphical overhaul. The acquisition of ex-Palm user interface expert Matias Duarte – the guy that designed the still-pretty webOS – implied that Google would be looking to pretty Android up against criticism that it was noticably “uglier” than the competition (they may have an argument up against iOS, but I don’t think Symbian, Windows Mobile (6.5) and Blackberry OS are any prettier. No offense to those respective design teams.)
Regardless of what we think, though, Google’s set out to change the face of Android and they’ve started quite subtly. To start, most of the standard icons have gotten redesigned for a simpler and cleaner look. The Android debugging icon, for instance, now takes on a more 8-bit feel and doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb as it used to. Google’s really gone back to the easel in this area, apparently. It sounds miniscule when you think about it now, but you’ll really notice it after using Gingerbread for a while and notice that everything’s just easier on your eyes. The icons also look like they were all designed by the same person, and I’m betting they were. This not only makes for a cleaner looking Android, but makes for a more uniform Android.
The snapshot of this thing in the wild is as blurry as blurry can get, but we’re working on getting more. At first glance, the graphical changes will be especially noticeable on the notification bar. They’ve gone from the milky/egg-white look of the Android of current to a warm, slate grey (reminiscent of the taskbar on devices with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI.) Everything looks pretty familiar upon pulling the notification bar down, but the carrier branding is displayed a lot more prominently compared to before. Beyond that, it’s pretty apparent that Google’s embracing “green” as the color of choice for Android, just as we’d expect they’d want to. (The mascot and logo are green, why not bits of the OS?) As they bring more green in, they haven’t completely done away with the orange we’re all used to. Depending on what’s being displayed, you’ll still see that warm color roaming about.
Looking at the homescreen, things are fundamentally the same. (We expect that, of course. Widgets have become a huge part of the Android experience and it’d be foolish to do anything to compromise that angle.) Looking at it, though, we’re greeted with more of the green highlights at the bottom of the screen. The application drawer button remains the same, but the Browser and Dialer buttons go from a quiet gray to a standout lime. There isn’t much else to talk about here, but anything could be added between now and the time Google’s ready to build the final version of this gingery house.
From what we’ve heard from our source, one of Google’s goals this time around is to work on the look and feel of individual Google apps to make them seem like more of an extension of the OS than just a tacked on accessory. The YouTube app is among the few to get this treatment. They’ve reportedly reshuffled elements and sections throughout the app and made sure it was as visually appealing as the rest of the apps featured in the newest version. YouTube (which will finally get stepped up to version 2.x) will also add the ability to control the fairly new “Lean Back” version of their site that launches the video-driven social network in a full-screen continous play mode. An ideal use-case sees the user controlling Lean Back on the newly-launched Google TV right from their phone. We’re trying to get more screens and details on how this will work, but we’ll just have to use our imagination for now.
Graphical changes continue where Google’s added the “bouncy” effect that you see on iOS devices and on TouchWiz 3.0 devices when traversing lists. When you reach the top or bottom of a list via kinetic scrolling, it’ll bounce off of the edge and initiate an orange glow at that edge. The best way to visualize the effect is to picture a force field in a Sci-Fi movie absorbing shock and emitting a nice glow that translates to “nuh-uh, you can’t touch this.” It sounds like a lot of this wouldn’t do well to help overall system performance, but we hear that – despite all of the eye candy – things actually feel smoother than on Froyo and earlier. It’s long been rumored that Google would be implementing hardware acceleration (what makes iOS smoother despite similarities in hardware against high-end Androids) in future versions of Android, and while we can’t confirm that at this point, it sounds like that just might be the case with Gingerbread. Other subtle visual changes include a style change in radio buttons and checkmarks. They’re bigger, cleaner, greener, and more beautiful. Nothing to get excited over, but even the smallest pieces contribute to a beautifully-finished puzzle. For what it’s worth, we’re told Gingerbread will eventually end up with a user interface that’s more like Sense than anything. (We believe they mean by how much will be different compared to what we now know and love as the stock Android experience.)
It’s not all about the visuals, though, because Google’s working to add even more functionality at the core of Android. Perhaps the biggest addition (that we can confirm so far) has been support for video chat using the same protocols that powers video chat on the desktop version of Google Talk. We’ve heard this rumor before, but our source is confident that this will be up and running by the time Gingerbread hits the net. Building upon that, we’ve also learned that Google’s adding SIP support in their Google Voice application to allow you to receive calls to your Google Voice number over WiFi and cellular data. For those who use Android devices without a voice plan, this means you can still use your phone as a phone as long as you’re near a WiFi connection. Nothing groundbreaking considering there are many VoIP options in the market currently, but it’s notable that Google’s adding this support natively. We’ve heard that the actual updated Voice application might not be ready for Gingerbread’s release, but the underlying framework has already been checked in. Unfortunately, it sounds like this’ll be a Gingerbread-exclusive feature so you Google Voice fans on Froyo and earlier (everyone, as of now) shouldn’t get too excited just yet.
So the ingredients are still being thrown into the bowl, but it hasn’t all been baked up yet. Still, it sounds like Gingerbread is coming along nicely and is everything it was rumored to be, and more. We’re digging for more information and evidence – including video of some sort – so stayed tuned to Phandroid as we head a bit deeper into development. (An announcement and release for Gingerbread was originally scheduled for Q4 2010, but might not rear its head until Q1 2011. The verdict is still out on all of that.)
PS: Remember that these are just early details of what we can confirm will be a part of Gingerbread. There may very well be more, but for now we can’t confirm that (and as it stands, all of it is rumored until otherwise officially announced.) With that in mind, sound off below!