Android This Week: Dual Displays; App Updates; NFC Expands

An innovate new Android handset was announced this week from Sprint (s): the Kyocera Echo has two 3.5-inch displays for a double dose of Google’s mobile platform. The Echo leverages Android’s ability to multitask like no other smartphone as the device can run separate apps on the two screens simultaneously. That could be handy when creating an email to share web information, for example, because the mail composition would be on one screen while a web search could be performed on the other. The bottom display also works as a large, software keyboard as well.

I’m not sold that the Echo will be a huge hit however: the device lacks a 4G radio for Sprint’s WiMAX network, for starters, and dual displays are likely to eat through a battery faster. Perhaps that’s why Sprint is including a second battery with the Echo? Regardless, Sprint is once again turning to Android to help boost subscriber numbers.

This week also saw updates of current Android apps and announcements of new ones. Twitter for Android received an overhaul this week: the new version makes it easier to search for friends and trends while also refreshing the user interface for simpler addition of photos and location. The new version also strengthens integration with the contacts database on an Android device, helping to add more of your friends to Twitter. I’ve tested the new Twitter on both a Nexus One handset and Galaxy Tab and the new features have me considering a permanent switch from Seesmic, my long-time favorite mobile Twitter client.

Coming in late March to Android is free software to remotely control a Sonos music system. Not everyone has a Sonos, of course, but for those that do, the new Android app will bring functionality similar to the current Sonos software for iOS devices. With Wi-Fi in more devices than ever, smartphone apps are taking the place of those “old fashioned” single-purpose wireless remotes. Also on the application front is the potential ability to run Android apps on non-Android phones. This is possible because all Android software runs in a virtual machine, or a software implementation of hardware. Myriad will be showing their Alien Dalvik virtual machine next week, and if it takes off, could expand the Android software ecosystem beyond devices running Google’s platform.

After last week’s Honeycomb event, Google (s goog) was relatively quiet on the Android front this week, but did make mention of Android 2.3.3, or what I like to call Gingerbread Plus. The minor update to Gingerbread expands support for NFC, or near field communications, a wireless method for purchases or data exchange. The new features include support for apps to read or write to any standard NFC tag as well as limited support for direct peer-to-peer connections between devices with NFC chips. While payments are typically associated with NFC technology, the new features added in Android 2.3.3 could help allow future handset apps to unlock doors or transfer data over short distances.

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