A leaked preview of upcoming Android 3.0 release (aka Honeycomb) dropped last week on the Android developers’ YouTube channel. We certainly noticed, and of course the scrutiny of the drastically different UI began shortly thereafter.
Google’s official preview video (above) provides us with the most in-depth look we’ve seen of the OSsince Google’s VP of engineering Andy Rubin gave us a sneak peek of it in December. It’s too preliminary to make any absolute judgments, but from what little we’ve gleaned from the video, there are a number of pretty big changes. It’s a complete interface makeover.
The most notable change is Google’s emphasis on Honeycomb being “built entirely for tablets,” rather than a scaled-up version of an existing, smartphone-optimized Android OS release.
After Apple’s runaway success with its 2010 debut of the iPad, expectations on tablet offerings from competing companies in 2011 have been high. And at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, there was certainly no dearth of new tablet debuts. Estimates of the number of new tablets showcased at CES ranged in the 50s to the 80s. From what we understand, the Honeycomb operating system has been designed to take advantage of the tablet shape in particular.
What hasn’t been made clear yet, however, is whether or not Honeycomb will be a tablet-exclusive version, or whether it will also be available for phones.
Android UI director Matias Duarte speaks to the issue, however effusively, in an interview with Engadget: “What you see in Honeycomb is absolutely the direction for Android,” Duarte says when directly asked about portability.
It’s a non-answer, and I doubt we’ll know more until closer to the time that “Ice Cream,” Honeycomb’s eventual successor, is released.
From what we can see in the new video, Duarte’s influence on the new UI is palpable. He came to Google in May from HP-owned Palm, where he developed the webOS interface for Palm devices, seen below:
Duarte’s scrollable page widgets from the webOS interface above are reminiscent of those seen on Honeycomb in the recent video from Google:
The Rubin demo screen shot and the screen above grab from Google’s leaked video share the same minimalist aesthetic, even more so than “Froyo” version 2.2 seen on Samsung’s Galaxy Tab (an OS which Duarte had no part in creating).
Surface area is obviously greater when moving from a 4-inch smartphone screen to that of a 10-inch tablet, and the scrollable Gmail, calendar and browser bookmark widgets sitting side-by-side simultaneously make good use of the increase in screen size.
Another stark difference: the complete lack of physical buttons on the device itself. “With Honeycomb,” says Duarte in the Engadget interview, “you don’t need to have physical buttons.” Note their complete absence in the wide shot of the Xoom:
Instead, physical navigational buttons have been replaced with on-screen versions of themselves, as seen in the arrows in the Xoom’s bottom left-hand corner, while the full app menu is still accessible in the upper right-hand corner:
But manufacturers aren’t beholden to buttonless devices. “Our partners can take that and do what they want with it,” Duarte says in the Engadget interview. “If somebody feels that, for their application, physical buttons are absolutely the right thing to do? Great. They can do that.”
Other app demos in the video seemed relatively straightforward, with heavier emphasis on their tablet application. Google Books leverages the tablet’s shape for page-turning and reading purposes, much like opening an iBook on the iPad. Gmail interactivity remains similar to its “Gingerbread” application — scrollable inbox, no-frills white-and-gray color scheme — but is now separated into two columns for navigability’s sake.
Google isn’t saying much about Honeycomb, outside of what’s been shown in the video, and after recent rumors circulating about the release of Honeycomb successor-to-be Ice Cream, it’s doubtful that the company will begin to talk until it’s good and ready.
Until then, our eyes will be glued to YouTube for the next leak.
Authored by Mike Isaac of Wired.com
Photos: Courtesy of Motorola and Palm
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