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5/10/2011
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Google Entices Honeycomb Developers

The Android team at Google's I/O developer conference asked attendees to write applications for Honeycomb and described the new features in version 3.1.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
Slideshow: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
One of the bigger announcements Google made at its I/O developers conference on Tuesday was Android 3.1 Honeycomb. This new version of Android for tablets adds a number of features sure to make end users and developers alike happy. In a move meant to entice Honeycomb developers, Google gave everyone in attendance at the event a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Honeycomb tablet. Will the new capabilities--and new hardware--be enough?

Looking in detail at what Google has added to Android 3.1, it seems worthy of more than a 3.x release name. Even so, Google calls it an incremental update.

Some of the key improvements include speedier user interface elements, with smoother action and better performance. Users will notice that the home screens perform faster, and now pressing the home button takes users to the last home screen they used, rather than the main home screen. The settings controls have been fine-tuned, too, providing users with better information about their device/system at a glance.

A big step for Android 3.1 is better compatibility with USB devices. For example, during the keynote, Google demonstrated a user playing a game on an Android tablet with a gaming console controller plugged into the USB port. The USB port also will accept cameras, keyboards, mice, docking stations, pointers, musical instruments, robotics, and, with the developer tools, just about anything else. This will greatly help Honeycomb develop into a better productivity, media, and entertainment platform.

Though Android 3.0 does well with its multitasking pane, it is limited to just a handful of recent applications. Android 3.1 significantly expands the number of apps that will appear in the multitasking pane, making it faster to jump back to previously used apps.

The widgets for the home screen will be re-sizable in Android 3.1. This means users can make their widgets larger, smaller, wider, longer, as they wish. Given the added real estate on tablet devices, this will be great for increasing the usefulness of some widgets (such as Gmail).

Google said the new system software also makes improvements to Wi-Fi performance, including some added security elements that should make enterprise IT departments happy. First, a new lock screen lets users maintain a strong Wi-Fi connection even when the device is locked. Users can now configure HTTP proxies for each individual Wi-Fi hotspot, and these can be backed up and stored. Last, it also adds support for Preferred Network Offload for better power management.

Last, Google will add a more robust set of features to the native applications that will ship in the tablet OS. The browser, for example, will receive user interface improvements, better page rendering, and faster and easier-to-manage control panes. It has support for CSS 3-D, animations, CSS fixed positioning, and HTML5 Web video playback. The gallery application will support Picture Transfer Protocol for syncing photos; the calendar has been enlarged for better finger control; the email application adds better support for HTML and plain text emails, better IMAP account folder support, and the home screen widget has been updated.

End-user facing features aside, Google also added a large number of tools for developers to target Honeycomb. All the new features mentioned above get their own APIs and individual tool sets so developers can take advantage of them for their applications.

Google made it plain that they want developers to hop on board the Honeycomb train. In addition to giving the developers the tablets, they also said quite simply: We want your apps. Google's Andy Rubin clearly asked attendees to support its tablet platform.

Given the large number of new features for the platform and the new developer tools, there's no reason to ignore it.

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