Android OS in 2011: 12 Developments to Keep Apple Nervous

Android is set to go leaps and bounds again, with a bunch of high-end smartphones, new cool apps, better performance and a tablet-specific version.

2011: The Year of the Android

Google's Android mobile operating system had a great 2010. At the end of 2009, Android was just an upstart mobile OS with huge potential, representing a mere 3.5 percent of the market. A mere 12 months later, Android lays claim to more than a quarter of the worldwide mobile OS market (25.5 percent). And next year, Android is set to grow by leaps and bounds again, with a bunch of high-end smartphones, new cool apps, better performance, and a version specifically for tablets. Here's what's coming from Android in 2011.

LG Optimus 2X

LG boasts that its Optimus 2X Android smartphone will be the first to feature a 1GHz dual-core processor from Nvidia, called Tegra 2. Arriving in the first quarter of 2011, the Optimus 2X has a 4-inch screen and dual cameras (8 megapixels in the back, 1.3 megapixels in the front); the device can record full HD (1080p) video, which you can then play via the HDMI port. LG hasn't yet provided any word on pricing or U.S. availability.

Acer 4.8-Inch Phone

In February, Acer will push the limits of smartphone screen size with an as yet unnamed phone with a 4.8-inch screen. Acer claims that this phone, which is larger than a normal smartphone but smaller than a tablet, will bring the best of both worlds. The phone's pricing remains a mystery, but when Acer says that the device will have a 1GHz processor, HDMI output, an 8MP camera, and Bluetooth 3.0.

PlayStation Phone

If it emerges, Sony's rumored PlayStation phone will be a hybrid between a portable gaming console and a smartphone. Renderings of the device show it as not the best-looking Android phone. The slide-out PSP controls would be used for games downloaded from a special store exclusive to the phone, all juiced by a 1GHz processor and 1GB of RAM. The PlayStation phone's availability, pricing, and very existence are unconfirmed.

3D Android Without the Glasses

Following its march into movies and TV sets, 3D is heading for an Android phone near you. Sharp's Galapagos 003SH is incorporates an autostereoscopic 3D display that the company developed itself; with this technology, you won't need 3D glasses to view 3D content. So far the Galapagos 003SH is Japan-bound only, but some models might make their way to U.S. shores as well.

Netflix Streaming

Netflix blames a lack of DRM support on Android for its delayed appearance on the platform. But 2011 will finally bring Netflix streaming to some Android smartphones, as handset manufacturers, carriers, and other service providers develop a standard DRM protection on Google's Android OS. Netflix did not give an exact time frame for Android streaming, however.

VLC for Android

Early 2011 will also see the introduction of the popular VLC media player to the Android platform, enabling you to play most popular video formats on the fly, without any extra video conversion. The developers of the app warned, though, that some specific devices might be unable to run the app because of hardware differences.

More 4G Android Phones

As Verizon deploys its 4G LTE network, the first Android smartphones running on it are expected from the likes of HTC and Motorola. The first leaks of Android prototypes running on 4G networks are in the wild, and you can expect them to deliver maximum download speeds of 7 mbps or better. Sprint and T-Mobile are rolling out faster networks, too, so look for a whole range of 4G Android devices to appear.

Android 2.3 on Your Phone

Debuting with Google's Nexus S smartphone, Android 2.3 should arrive on most high-end Android phones launched in the second half of 2010. Android 2.3 is not a huge overhaul of its predecessor, but the OS's interface feels more refined and more responsive. New features include NFC (near-field communication) support, keyboard copy/paste, support for multiple cameras, and new management apps and menus.

Android for Tablets

Android 2.4, also known as Honeycomb, is the upcoming, tablet-oriented version of Google's OS, and Motorola is teasing that it will be the first hardware manufacturer to run the OS on its tablet (pictured). The Motorola device is slated to have an Nvidia dual-core 3D processor, and software buttons will replace all physical buttons. Other rumored specs for the Motorola's tablet include a 5-megapixel camera and Verizon network connectivity. Have a look at some additional Android tablets coming in 2011.

Video Chat and Front-Facing Cameras

Countering Apple's introduction of FaceTime video calling, Google has designed Android 2.3 to make video calling on Android phones a mainstream function. A few Android phones already support video calling, but Android 2.3 has the feature built-in. Coupled with an increasing number of phones that carry front-facing cameras, Android stands a chance of bringing video calling into fashion.

The iPod of the Android Platform

Samsung is working to put Android on a new iPod Touch-like device, dubbed the Samsung Galaxy Player. The device would have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0 connectivity, a storage capacity of up to 32GB, dual cameras, and access to Android Market apps. The company hasn't released details on price and availability.

Race to the Bottom

The Tegra 2 chip from Nvidia will make Android phones faster, but this competing chip from Broadcom (the BCM2157) promises to make 3G Android mobile handsets more affordable--dropping retail prices for some phones as low as $100 (half the price of current top-range Android phones). The maximum specs from this chipset are a 5-megapixel camera with a 500MHz processor, which are average specs for Android smartphones already.

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