Google has unveiled the two next major updates for the Android operating system. First up is Google Android 3.1, which should begin rolling out for Verizon Motorola XOOM 3G tablets right away. It will also eventually run on Google TV boxes.
Android 3.1 will bring improvements to the task switcher, allowing you to view more recent apps, as well as to the home screen widgets. Developers will be able to make scrollable home screen widgets resizable by changing just a few lines of code.
The next-generation tablet operating system will also add USB host capabilities allowing you to use peripherals including a mouse, keyboard, touchpad, or game controller. Users will also be able to connect a camera to copy photos to a tablet.
Google Android Ice Cream Sandwich is due out during the fourth quarter of 2011, and it will unify the company’s smartphone and tablet operating systems. In other words, once Ice Cream is out, there will be one version of Android for all devices.
Ice Cream Sandwich will incorporate many of the elements of Honeycomb, including the user interface, task switcher, and home screen widgets. In other words, it sounds like the home, menu, search, and back buttons that are a staple of today’s Android phones may be as outdated as the trackball by this time next year.
That said, Google also announced today that it’s reached an agreement with a number of Android device makers to get them to commit to offering software updates for phones and tablets for at least 18 months — assuming the hardware permits it. In other words, if you buy an Android 3.1 tablet next month and it can support Android 5.x when it’s launched next summer, Google is trying to get device makers to promise that they will offer the software update.