Shortly before their tablet partner Motorola went on stage for CES, Andy Rubin released a video of Honeycomb on the Google Mobile blog showing off a few of the things to look forward to in the new release. It's everything we saw in his interview at Dive into Mobile and so much more. Video below, full analysis of the video after the break.
If you read my post last night about the ASUS tablets sporting Honeycomb or followed any other news about Honeycomb tablets you might have noticed their versions looked nothing like what Rubin showed late last year. Thankfully, the official iteration of Honeycomb is so much cleaner and nicer looking than what ASUS and Toshiba were showing off.
A few things stick out instantly when you watch the video. "Built entirely for tablet" means it's unlikely phones will see any of the APIs and enhancements shows off here any time soon. And it makes sense: Google just launched Gingerbread and while there aren't that many major overhauls, they need to let it sink in before making their next move. Earlier today we also found that over 50% of Android phones now run 2.2 and around 35% for 2.1 so there's work to be done to get everyone updated at least one version up. Also, the move to call Honeycomb 3.0 signals what many had been debating - a split in the fabric of all things Android. Do we really need to care too much about it though ? Probably not.
As long as apps for phones still work in the tablet iteration, the fact that it won't happen the other way around doesn't mean much. A 10 inch playing surface gives a lot more options to app devs to explore and create apps in a different way. While we wait for devs to do so, however, we should hope that current phone apps will work and scale properly so we can enjoy the experience as best possible. Making a tablet-only app available to phones doesn't make much sense to begin with. The dynamic APIs Rubin showed at Dive into Mobile were nice where phones and tablets could use the same app just presenting it differently, but that's not all there is to tablet app design. Button positioning or the way in which extra info is displayed inside an app needs to be reconsidered when designing tablet specific apps and in order to design the most useful and fun apps out there tablet devs will probably not make apps backwards compatible to phones - it's nothing personal. What follows from the new version number, also, is that the next phone version will probably be 2.4 and the next tablet one 3.1 but don't take my word for that.
On to other notable mentions in chronological order of the video (I actually had to download the video off Youtube and slow it down in VLC cause it moves a little fast). As we can see, the unlock button isn't linear anymore, there are two concentric circles and you move the smaller one away from the center towards the larger one - whatever direction you'd like to do that in. Neat! The new homescreen looks nice too:
There are scrollable widgets for GMail, Calendar and Bookmarks, and plenty of space for icons. The search bar that used to span across the screen in tablets with 2.1/2.2 is now a proper size and at the bottom you have the announced soft buttons, instead of hard buttons on the device (only the case with the XOOM, the ASUS and Toshiba ones still had touch bottons on the bezel), a clock and what I assume are wifi and battery icons that'll pop up to reveal the respective info, as they do on the Archos and Viewsonic tablets now - again, just my 2 cents, no official word on that.
On the second screen you've got your social widgets, so far for GTalk and Youtube - Facebook and Twitter will likely follow to unify the social aspects of it. Through some action the video shows a transition to an overview of the homescreens - 5 in total as it seems - and the way in which homescreen customization works in Honeycomb. You can flick through widgets in one pane, choose apps in another and change (probably by browsing through an integrated gallery) a wallpaper. The first two panes spaces work by dragging a widget or app upwards onto the screen of choice, waiting for it to zoom in, and then dropping it on there. There seems to be an 8x7 grid to drop widgets and apps on there, though app shortcuts seem to be taking up only have a unit in the first screen.
The keyboard looks amazing. It takes up almost 2/3 of the screen, features nice CR48 style keys and the typical triangular QWERTY design that we're all used to, with minimal function keys around it. Given the 16:10 display ratio of the Motorola XOOM this will first drop on it should be wide enough to be confortable to type on - the iPad one is honestly really fast, but I find myself bending my wrists to accomodate the limited space - a problem the wider screen should solve. It won't be full-sized but good enough for anything but the novelists out there.
The browser saw a pleasant redesign and seems pretty fast in the simulated images. Functions like text selection, link sharing, find on page and are confined to the menu key in the top right and pop over the tabbed top bar when selected. The navigation field disappears as you scroll down a page. Text selection inside the browser, and probably system wide, is just like what you saw in Gingerbread with the markers on each side aiding you through the process.
Google eBooks has a nice design to it and shows the search and menu keys in the top right, probably a system wide implementation. It also features paper-like page flipping as seen on the iPad and the Nook/Kindle apps so far and a nice coverflow-esque scrollable widget shown earlier. GMail is now a multipane application with a folder pane on the left, message list pane following and a third message only in the tow. In the first view you see your folders and message list per folder, when you select a message it shows the message list and message only. Nice!
Youtube also saw a redesign that looks a little much like the desktop/laptop Safari coverflow visual bookmarks. GTalk officially has video calling to counter FaceTime on the iPhone and soon enough on the iPad too. I'll go our on a limb and say expect video calling to come to phones near you soon too - it's just the sensible thing to do. Maps 5.0 with 3D that came to many phones a few weeks ago is also on board, Streetview and all.
Phew. That's a lot to soak in but it also leaves a few questions unanswered. I've burdened you with enough reading already so there'll be more about Honeycomb when we know more.
Photos: Screenshots from the official Google video