Android 3.0 Honeycomb Preview

Android 3.0 Honeycomb Preview
The long-rumored total interface overhaul that was to come with Android 3.0 Honeycomb since last August, is already here. It turned out that Google meant this new interface for tablets, which, in hindsight, should have been easy to guess, given the larger screen real estate the UI gurus have on slate devices.

Google posted a beta SDK for Android 3.0, and also platform highlights, so let's dive deep to check how does the new Android OS differ, since it is going to wink at us from many a tablet this year.

Visual changes

The interface has been reworked to match the tablets' larger screen size and resolution. Google calls the UI "virtual" and "holographic", since it basically adds depth to the visuals. The notification bar goes to the bottom now, and is called System Bar, which shows all the vitals as before, and has virtual navigation buttons. This one is omnipresent, but fades away handily when you need the full screen size - watching videos, for example.

On the top we will have the Action Bar - this one will be specific for each application, and will contain the app's own menus, navigation, widgets and themes.

In between the two bars there are five homescreens, each consisting of a grid that maintains its arrangement in both portrait and landscape modes. There is a separate visual layout mode for populating those homescreens with widgets, app shortcuts, wallpapers, etc., with visual cues what goes where. Each of them will have an app launcher for access to the main menu, as well as a search box. The widgets have been improved for use as remote views on the homescreen, and new types added, such as a 3D stack.

Speaking of apps, a new visual multitasking menu is in store, called Recent Apps, which pops up from the System Bar at the bottom, offering you a way to quickly switch between the active applications.

The standard application set has also received a number of improvements, mainly in visual form. The browser receives features from Google's desktop Chrome, like tabs at the top and "incognito" mode. A number of itty bitty improvements are on tap, such as new multitouch support in JavaScript and plugins. Your bookmarks and history share common view now, and you can sync your Chrome bookmarks with the Honeycomb browser.

The Contacts app is organized in two panes here, featuring Fast Scroll, and your peeps are presented in a card view.

Email also uses two panes, and you can mark multiple messages now to manipulate using the Action Bar up top. The ability to choose multiple items at once for cut/copy/paste/delete, etc., is a native feature now in Honeycomb. Attachments can be synced for offline viewing, and keeping track of your email flow is managed by a dedicated homescreen widget.

Having all this screen estate at your disposal improves the interaction with the Camera and Gallery as well. In addition to more settings being exposed and accessible in the camera interface, in the gallery you can preview whole albums full screen, with thumbnails for access to different photos.

Entering text in Android 3.0 Honeycomb is made easy by also taking advantage of the Action Bar for cut/copy/paste/search, after you have marked the text with the two handles. There is a new Tab button on the keyboard, and the keys on the whole have been redrawn to optimize them for the tablet experience.

Under the hood

The big one here is native support for multicore chipsets, such as NVIDIA Tegra 2. No more complaints from developers that the OS doesn't support two cores, now they can get real down and dirty writing apps that take full advantage of the additional core. "Symmetric multiprocessing in multicore environments" is exactly what the doctor ordered. In Android 3.0 developers can now break down their apps in the so-called Fragments, for example a couple of panes working independently of each other.

Honeycomb disposes with the nuisance of having to mount your device as USB mass storage for multimedia file transfer, as it now supports the Media/Photo Transfer Protocol. We love they added this feature, since now we don't have to look for USB drivers each time something doesn't work right with syncing.

Still on the connectivity front, the search and discovery times for Wi-Fi hotspots have been improved, as well as a new Bluetooth tethering option added for more devices to take advantage of the network connection on your Honeycomb device. In a new twist, HTTP streaming is also supported for application developers to take advantage of.

The new hardware-accelerated 2D graphics and animation support, as well as the Renderscript 3D engine will bring along numerous visual  enhancements. It will be easier to create 3D effects such as app carousels, flippable 3D widget stacks (which come as an option in Honeycomb) and other eye-candy.

The best part is that applications, written for previous versions of Android, will be compatible, and developers will be able to take full advantage of the new widget system, 2D and 3D graphic improvements with ease, in order to integrate their apps in the "holographic" UI of Honeycomb.

As you know, the first tablet to ship with Android 3.0 Honeycomb will be the Motorola XOOM, which is expected to come out as a 3G version as soon as late February. Are you looking forward to getting one? We sure are!


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