Google has just given the world an up-close and personal look at Honeycomb, it’s upcoming Android operating system tailored for tablet devices, alongside the launch of the website based Android Market. We saw the operating system in a brief promotional video at the start of the year, and most of the news covers what we already suspected, although some interesting details have been released including detailed information on cloud service integration, Google’s new 3D rendering framework and the video chat application.
Entering the stage with a Motorola Xoom in tow, Andy Rubin, VP of Engineering at Google, enforced just how much of Android was completely cloud-centric (like we had to be reminded!), commenting “you could lose your laptop, your phone or your tablet, and all your data is safe and secure”. It’s clear that seamless integration from the cloud is the way forward in an ecosystem such as Google’s, where your phone, tablet, and even your TV may be running the same operating system.
Honeycomb was shown off by Hugo Barra, Product Management Director of Android, and more details on how users will interact with the home screen and its contents were given. Unlike the phone version of Android, the notification bar, or its equivalent, in Honeycomb for tablets is located at the bottom of the screen. You’ll find all your notifications in the bottom right hand corner of the screen, and these can be expanded by tapping on the notifications button.
The same bar also allows the user to control certain applications within Android, such as the music player and Google Talk.
Naturally, you will also be able to use widgets with Honeycomb, just as you can on any mobile Android device. In the new operating system, however, developers will now be able to take advantage of stacked tabs. Many of the built-in applications already utilise stacked tabs. The Google Books widget, for example, will allow you to flick through all of your books from the home screen, without even being in the application itself.
Widget functionality has also been extended to allow the user to access app-related date in the widget itself. This is great for applications that offer features such as to-do lists, as the widget can be automatically updated with the latest relevant information. This flexibility allows the user to potentially be much more productive, as a lot of tasks can be achieved without even entering the application.
Every smartphone operating system now relies heavily on third party applications from developers across the globe. With so many applications already in the Android Market, it’s important that these can be run on newer, tablet devices too.
When Apple released the iPad, it announced that iPhone apps could run on the large screen, but they would be in a windowed environment, and they look pretty terrible blown up to 2x resolution. Fortunately, Google has taken a different approach, and many of the apps that were designed for phones running Android will be able to run natively on Honeycomb tablets without any alterations to their code.
To show this off, Barra fired up an unmodified version of Fruit Ninja, written before Honeycomb was made available to developers and not utilised for the tablet device. Sure enough, the game looked good and it played really well with no sign of incompatibilities. It’s worth noting that not every app will look this great; developers who have adhered to Google’s app guidelines should have no problem in their app running on the big screen, but developers who haven’t done this may have to implement such code in the near future to see good results on the platform.
One of the major features in upcoming smartphones, and no doubt more upcoming tablets in 2011, is video chatting capability. iOS has it, Android has it thanks to third party applications, and now Honeycomb will come with video calling out of the box, utilising Google Talk as the platform for making such calls.
The demo was eventually carried out at the end of the event, with an American singer/rapper called Cee-Lo (I’ve never heard of the man, although I’m assured he’s very good at what he does – thanks Robert!) talking to Hugo Barra on stage.
The conversation took place over a Wi-Fi connection, presumably to attain the best quality, and looked a little shoddy at best. The video stream was decidedly average, and there was a lag of around a second on the connection. Speaking of streams, the audio stream is probably best described as having the quality of a 64kb/s pirated song; if that’s what video chat looks and sounds like over Wi-Fi, I’ll save my frustration and not even bother with 3G. Let’s just hope the service is ironed out and tweaked before the world is communicating using the new tech.
There may not be a flurry of competitors waiting to take down Android tablets before they’re launched, but the operating system certainly looks like it will be able to hold its own against Apple’s iPad. Honeycomb is not only more flexible, but looks absolutely incredible.
When teething problems, such as video chat quality, are ironed out, I have no doubt that Google’s latest version of Android will take the world by storm. So what do you say, Apple? Care to show us what you’ve got up your sleeve?
If you’ve got any thoughts on Google’s Honeycomb announcement, or the new website based Android Market, feel free to let us know in the comments!