Google Debuts a Honey of an OS

Google staged an in-depth look at its Android 3.0 operating system, aka “Honeycomb,” at a press conference Wednesday. It marks the official arrival of the first version of the Android operating system to be optimized specifically with the tablet form factor in mind.

Features mentioned in the presentation include richer notifications for incoming messages, faster access to home screen settings, optimized 2D and 3D graphics performance and improved streaming video processing.

Google focused heavily on developers, also announcing the Android Market Web store and in-app purchases, among other things.

The event ended with the presenters conducting a video chat with musician Cee-Lo Green.

Backstage, 18 developers demonstrated functions like in-app billing and other apps created with Honeycomb. Google announced that 50 developers will show off Honeycomb-optimized apps at the Mobile World Congress, to be held in Barcelona later this month.

Android 3.0 Stuff

Google’s offering templates in Honeycomb that let app devs create richer, more advanced notifications, such as having the sender’s picture pop up when the user receives an instant message on the device.

While these Honeycomb notifications are “stronger and more impressive” than those offered by Apple’s iOS for now, the two companies “will begin to leapfrog each other going forward,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, pointed out.

Google did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Existing Android apps for smartphones work on Honeycomb, and Google demoed the game “Fruit Ninja” as proof.

Honeycomb supports video chat with video stabilization technology. This keeps the image smooth and by so doing saves bandwidth because less movement means less bandwidth is required to render the video.

Gunning for the App Devs

Google focused heavily on developers in creating Honeycomb.

The new OS includes a user interface framework to create apps for devices with larger screens, such as tablets. Devs can use new UI components, new themes, richer widgets and notifications and other new features.

Honeycomb comes with a property-based animation framework that lets devs add visual effects to their apps. It has a built-in GL (graphics library) renderer that lets developers hardware-accelerate common 2D rendering operations in their apps.

“Performance and responsiveness is important for developers and is certainly key for a new generation of applications that really take advantage of the tablet’s larger screen,” Al Hilwa, a program director at IDC, told LinuxInsider.

A new 3D graphics engine called “Renderscript” lets devs add rich 3D scenes in Honeycomb.

“The 2D and 3D hardware acceleration is huge and may lead to much richer games and stronger user experiences,” Enderle said. Also, the “Monster Madness” demo is “a good indication that gaming will be strong” on Honeycomb, he added.

New multimedia features such as HTTP Live streaming support, a pluggable digital rights management framework and easy media file transfer through MTP/PTP help devs create rich content.

Honeycomb includes new APIs for Bluetooth A2DP and HSP. These let apps offer audio streaming and headset control.

For the enterprise, Honeycomb comes with administrative policies covering encrypted storage, password expiration and other features.

Android 3.0 is optimized to run on either single- or dual-core processors.

Getting to the Money

Google Wednesday extended the Android market client from mobile devices to every desktop through Android Market on the Web. This includes merchandising features such as suggestion-guided search, deep linking and social sharing.

“If you don’t need to go to an app market but can download an app from the Web, it makes things a lot easier for everyone and may translate to better sales,” Enderle said.

The Honeycomb SDK

Google has released a preview of the Android 3.0 SDK with non-final APIs and system image.

However, applications developed with this can’t be published on Android Market. Google will release a final SDK sometime in the next few weeks that can be used to build apps that can be published on the Android Market.

“The fit and finish of the SDK is not there yet, but for developers, what matters is a familiar language and IDE (integrated development environment),” IDC’s Hilwa stated.

“Having Java as the base language is one of the key assets of Android as a whole and one of its key success factors,” Hilwa remarked. “This will definitely carry over to Honeycomb.”

Android 3.0 is “among Google’s best work yet,” Enderle said. “I’m very impressed.”

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