Google's latest version of its Android mobile operating system is here, but what does that mean exactly? If you're an Android newcomer, or just the curious sort, you might be asking yourself just that very question.
Just what is Gingerbread, what does it do, and why do you need it?
We answer all in our handy Q&A...
Q: What is Gingerbread exactly?
A: It's the latest version of Google's Android software, the platform on Android phones that you interact with and download and install apps to. Other examples are iOS from Apple, BlackBerry OS, Symbian and Samsung's Bada.
Q: So why is it called Gingerbread?
A: Each version of Android since the original version 1.0 and the slightly tweaked version 1.1 have been given confection-themed codenames. In April 2009, version 1.5 arrived bearing the name Cupcake, and since then we've had Donut, Eclair, Froyo (frozen yoghurt) and now Gingerbread. Each new version starts with the following letter of the alphabet from the previous one, so following Gingerbread we can look forward to some tasty treats in Honeycomb and Ice Cream.
Q: But Gingerbread is also called Android 2.3?
A: The official version number – in this case 2.3 – gives a hint to how major an upgrade each new release is over the previous versions. The first full version saw updates to 1.1, 1.5 and 1.6, then Android 2.0 (Eclair) was a big leap forward, followed by updates to 2.1, 2.2 and now 2.3. Gingerbread is the last update to Android 2.x before Honeycomb introduces us to Android 3.0.
Q: What are the main improvements in Gingerbread?
A: Probably the most important new feature to get excited about is support for a forward facing camera. That means Android phones will now be able to make two-way video calls, already a staple on many other phones. Then there's support for Near Field Communications, which allows your phone to communicate with other devices at close range (it's the same technology used in Oyster cards and electronic bus pass systems). This could allow your phone to be used to make small cash payments, or to scan movie posters and the like to be able to access interactive content directly on your phone.
Q: Any other highlights I should know about in Android 2.3?
A: Plenty! Gingerbread may not be a whole new version of Android, but there's still lots to talk about. Google has improved the software keyboard for easier typing, added a download manager and given the copy and paste function a tweak to make it easier to use. Throw in more efficient power management and in Gingerbread you've got the recipe for a tasty treat.
Q: So how can I get Gingerbread on my smartphone?
A: You can either upgrade your phone itself to a new model running Gingerbread natively, or wait until an update is made available to your existing Android phone.
Q: Which mobile phones will be running Gingerbread from scratch?
A: The Samsung-built Google Nexus S is officially the first handset to appear with Gingerbread built in, and is set to launch around the start of 2011. But many other Gingerbread-slinging devices are slated to appear in the months to follow, no doubt many of them made by Google's close Android partner HTC. Also, look out for the Sony PlayStation phone – set to make an appearance in March 2011 – which will run Gingerbread natively.
Q: When can I upgrade my older Android phone?
A: As with previous versions of Android, each individual Android model is likely to receive an over-the-air upgrade to Gingerbread separately. This is mainly because Google lets manufacturers build their own interfaces on top of Android, so they have to spend some time getting their interface to work with the new features offered by the upgraded platform. Also, note that some of Gingerbread's features depend on hardware features being present on your mobile. Support for forward-facing video, for example, won't mean much if your phone doesn't actually have a forward-facing camera.
Q: How long until the next version of Android comes out?
A: New versions of Android came out of Google's kitchen thick and fast in the early days, but the company has announced it will be slowing things down a bit in future. Honeycomb – version 3.0 – will be launching some time in 2011, though there's no indication just yet of exactly when. Google has already shown off an 'early version' of the OS running on a Motorola tablet, however, proof – if any was still needed – that the mobile world never stands still.