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Google Previews Next Android Release

Android SDK
Google is giving developers an early look at the next version of the Android platform for mobile devices.

The company's software development kit (SDK) for Version 1.5 is slated for release around the end of this month, but Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) is letting devs download a sneak peak that includes new features that will eventually find their way into Android-based devices.

The new features include developer APIs for soft keyboards, home screen widgets, live folders, and speech recognition. The Android platform is an open source project managed by the Google-led Open Handset Alliance.

The news comes at a time of intense competition among smartphone device makers, led by Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) surging iPhone and new BlackBerry models from Research In Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM), including the recent launch of the first BlackBerry App World online store for applications. Meanwhile, Palm has generated lots of interest for its innovative Pre smartphone, expected to ship by June.

Analyst Jack Gold says the latest SDK stands to help Android "keep up," but the mobile OS needs to do more to stand out in the market.

"Its' a significant announcement in that it shows Android continues to move down the path of innovation," Gold, principal analyst at J.Gold Associates, told InternetNews.com. "There are a few things Android does better, but there are a lot more areas it needs to catch up in to the iPhone, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry."

Gold notes one area not mentioned in the SDK preview that most device makers need to work on is security enhancements. "BlackBerry is the only one that's really the Cadillac of security, all the other smartphones have issues though they've all gotten better," said Gold.

Multiple versions of Android

Google also said it's changed the structure of the SDK to include multiple releases. For example, today's early-look release includes Android platform versions 1.1 and 1.5.

In the Android Developer blog, Google's Xavier Ducrohet said the change will help developers target different Android platform versions from within a single SDK installation. Another benefit is that it lets developers install Android SDK add-ons to access extended functionality that might be provided by OEMs, carriers, or other providers.

Google said it's using the latter feature itself in the early-look SDK, which includes a support add-on for the Google Maps API, previously embedded in the "core" SDK.