More than any Android version before it, Gingerbread release is meant to earn the platform credibility in handheld gaming. Here are top three enhancements that’ll hopefully help Android capture some of the gaming awesomeness of Apple’s iDevices.

On Monday Google unveiled its Nexus S smartphone and with it Android 2.3 codenamed "Gingerbread", the next iteration of the Android platform. Along came a new SDK with a bunch of new APIs for programmers. Even though it’s a maintenance release, there’s more to it than meets the eye.

The new APIs created with gamer makers in mind finally let developers access the underlying hardware from native code, resulting in a much smoother execution of graphic-intensive apps and games. This is important because there’s a world of difference between Android and iOS games in terms of complexity and breadth. Here are the top three enhancements you’ll be start seeing in games created for Android 2.3 devices.

More precise controls and sensors

The system now handles touch and keyboard events much faster and programmers can access input and sensor events directly in their native code. This will kill the lag and dramatically improve efficiency and responsiveness of the controls in games. 

Android 2.3 supports a bunch of new sensors and is more responsive to touch and keyboard input. 

Several new sensor types are being promoted as well, including gyroscope, rotation vector, linear acceleration, gravity, and barometer sensors. This will make possible more precise motion controls in games, Google explained:

For example, a game application could use readings from a gyroscope and accelerometer on the device to recognize complex user gestures and motions, such as tilt, spin, thrust, and slice.

Better sounding, better looking action

On the graphics and audio front, Android 2.3 features updated third-party video drivers for faster 3D performance. It also added open APIs for native audio and 3D graphics through EGL/OpenGL ES, and OpenSL ES for low-latency sound. 

New sound effects and audio APIs will result in richer soundscapes in games.

Games and apps can now draw directly into the pixel buffer, previously a big no-no. Also, games can load assets and database records directly from native code while concurrent garbage collector minimizes application pauses, which leads to smoother animation and increased responsiveness.

Richer multimedia

On the rich media front, Android 2.3 added support for open video formats VP8 and WebM, in addition to AAC and AMR-wideband encoding. New audio effects like reverb, equalization, headphone virtualization, and bass will facilitate the creation of more compelling games. You know, the kind of experiences that go beyond Angry Birds.

It’s nice to see Google moving the ball forward when it comes to gaming on Android. If the platform’s recent advancements in mobile arena are any measure, an improved Android loaded with improved graphics and multimedia capabilities should pave the way for high-quality gaming on the platform.

It might not be enough to slow down Apple’s rapid ascent in handheld gaming, but it’s a start. Meantime, hold your horses – Android 2.3 isn’t ready for human consumption yet and it’ll drop on your phone when your carrier decides it’s ready.