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Android Cupcake Served to T-Mobile G1 Users

Google G1 Android smartphone

Android fans are in for a sweet treat today as Google and partners in the open-source mobile operating system begin releasing its first major, codenamed "Cupcake".

But there's more to the release that simply doling out new features to users: It's an effort to keep pace with the stiff competition in an increasingly competitive smartphone market.

While Google has improved Android several times since it came out in the fall of 2008, Cupcake -- which bumps the software's version to 1.5 -- marks the platform's first significant upgrade.

Though developer have been playing around with the Cupcake 1.5 software developer kit since April, today marks the official beginning of the push of the upgrade to Android handsets, namely the HTC T-Mobile G1.

T-Mobile, which currently sells the only Android-based phone in the U.S., said in a statement that updates would be sent randomly to users beginning at the end of the week.

"We expect everyone will have their update by the end of May," it said.

The update comes at a time when competitors are also enhancing their operating systems and gearing up for signature product launches this summer. Research In Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) just finished tweaking the BlackBerry operating system to support touchscreens and speedier browsing, while Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) is poised to release iPhone OS version 3.0, with a slew of enhancements. Palm, meanwhile, is readying its new mobile platform, webOS, to coincide with debut of its upcoming Pre smartphone.

With competitors offering (or expected to offer) features like on-screen keyboards, desktop widgets, advanced multimedia support and real-time updates, it's likely no wonder that Android's developers have been working to bring similar enhancements to their software.

Key features of the 1.5 upgrade include speech recognition tools, a virtual keyboard, video upload support for YouTube and support for live data feeds and live folders, which store real-time updates without having to open an application.

But the secret ingredient of Cupcake may be that it will support a wide range of phone designs, which should make developers and carriers happy.

One of those carriers is T-Mobile, which recently saw theG1 surpass 1 million in sales . With that milestone under its belt, the carrier is preparing to add a slew of Android handsets later this summer, according to reports.

Meanwhile, reports are also circulating that Samsung is leapfrogging over Cupcake to version 2.0 of the software -- codenamed "Donut" -- for its upcoming Android handsets due out this year. Samsung declined to comment on the issue.

Cupcake may also help further Android in other ways: At least some analysts believe that developers, carriers and handset makers have been waiting for updates of the software before committing to devices or applications.

The G1 may have been rushed to market before the majority of developers, carriers and handset makers were completely comfortable with the Android platform as it existed six months ago, which resulted in the long lag time between the G1 and other products, Gold said.

Google did not respond to queries for comment by press time.