Google Sweetens the Android Pot With Honeycomb 3.2 SDK

Google Friday announced Android 3.2 and released updated software development kit (SDK) tools for the platform.

Android 3.2 is an incremental release that adds several new capabilities for both users and developers, the Internet giant said.

It includes changes to the application programming interface (API) and is optimized for a wider range of tablets than the original Android 3.0 release.

The new features appear to make Android 3.2, aka “Honeycomb,” more uniform across different screen sizes.

“This tries to give some better options for Android phone apps to run on tablets,” Al Hilwa, a program director at IDC, told LinuxInsider.

Google’s doing this in order to deal with the lack of tablet apps, Hilwa suggested.

The company’s reportedly consolidating smartphone and tablet features into one release in its upcoming Android 4.0 platform, code-named “Ice Cream Sandwich.”

That makes Android 3.2 a “stopgap measure,” Hilwa said.

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

Combing Through Android 3.2

Android 3.2 is optimized for a wider range of tablets, and it has a new compatibility display mode that gives users a new way to view fixed-sized apps on larger devices.

This mode provides a pixel-scaled alternative to the standard UI (user interface) stretching for apps designed to run on small screens.

When a user enables this new screen compatibility mode, Android 3.2 will no longer resize an app’s layout to fit the screen. Instead, it will run the app in an emulated normal/mdpi screen of about 320dp x 480dp and scale that up to fill the screen.

That will make everything bigger but also more pixelated.

The term “dp” stands for density-independent pixel. A dp is a virtual pixel unit that devs use when defining UI layout. One DP is equivalent to one physical pixel on a 160dpi screen, which is the baseline density assumed by Android for a medium density screen.

A normal/mdpi screen is one that’s of normal size and medium density.

Developers whose Android apps resize well from smartphones to tablets should disable the screen compatibility mode when they update the platform.

Android 3.2’s screen support API has been extended with new resource qualifiers and manifest attributes to give devs more precise control over their UI across all Android-powered devices, Google said.

This will also let devs target screens by size.

The Android 3.2 platform is available for devs as a downloadable component for the Android SDK. It includes an Android library and a set of emulator skins, among other things. However, the platform does not include external libraries.

Google is urging devs who have already published Android apps to test and optimize them on Android 3.2 as soon as possible.

The Whys and Wherefores of Android 3.2

Google needed to come up with 3.2 to improve Honeycomb, which “came out just a few months ago and was somewhat rough around the edges,” IDC’s Hilwa said.

“It’s good to see refinement keep coming,” Hilwa added. “I also notice that Motorola is rushing to get this out on the Xoom [tablet], which is a good thing for them.”

It’s not clear whether Motorola’s working on a Xoom running Android 3.2 or 4.0, which has the codename “Ice Cream Sandwich.”

Motorola is not saying. “We can’t comment on rumors,” Kira Lee Golin, the device manufacturer’s spokesperson, told LinuxInsider.

In any event, releasing Android 3.2 may help the operating system attract more app developers and, therefore, boost sales of Android tablets, IDC’s Hilwa remarked.

A Better Tomorrow?

“One of the biggest things 3.2 deals with is the lack of apps for Android tablets,” IDC’s Hilwa said.

“You can run iPhone apps on the iPad, and there are about 100,000 iPad apps,” Hilwa added. “There are only tens of thousands of apps for other devices at best, and that’s slowing down their acceptance.”

Over time, things may change for the better for Android tablets.

Currently, it’s hard for Android app devs to make money because device makers don’t have enough sales, Hilwa said.

“You don’t have the virtuous cycle of increased sales leading to increased devices leading to increased apps,” Hilwa explained.

Further, Honeycomb is new, and several tablets from various device manufacturers run older versions of Android, Hilwa said.

“As that gets settled, there’ll be more apps and there’ll be more units and Android will become more viable,” Hilwa pointed out.

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