It looks like Google spent a lot of time brainstorming with Honeycomb and the results speak for themselves. With a bevy compelling features like the new holographic UI, richer widgets, better notifications, multitouch gestures, hardware-accelerated 2D/3D graphics and the new Android Marketplace; Honeycomb has a lot going for it. The level of polish that Google has achieved with Honeycomb is quite commendable. The UI effects and transitions are silky smooth; switching between home screens, moving widgets, scrolling though lists is lag-free and can easily rival iOS’s traditional advantage in this regard. The new updated native apps make excellent use of the screen space and the multi-paned fragments framework coupled with the new Action Bar make workflows throughout the OS very efficient. The new “Renderscript” graphics engine looks amazing in the YouTube and Music Player apps and offers developers a chance to create even more engaging apps in the future. To be quite honest, after looking at Honeycomb in action, iOS looks like it might need a facelift real soon.

The real advantage for Honeycomb is the aggressive adoption of next-gen SoC platforms by manufacturers. Motorola, Samsung and LG already have tablets with blazing-fast dual-core SoCs from Nvidia, Qualcomm, TI and Samsung. Additionally, manufacturers have gone above and beyond to differentiate themselves from the iPad with much demanded features like SD card slots, USB ports, HDMI output and dual cameras with support for 1080p video recording. Ambitious players like LG are jumping on the 3D bandwagon with stereoscopic cameras for 3D video recording with their Optimus Pad. These features not only appeal to a broad spectrum of customers, but more importantly, create a market where people have compelling selection of tablets to choose from. If Google plays their cards right, Android has the potential to quickly become a force to reckon with in the tablet market.

My Concerns

Android is no stranger to platform fragmentation. The division of the OS into separate releases for phones and tablets has the potential to further exacerbate this issue. To add to the problem, it was believed that Google would have some minimum system requirements for Honeycomb, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. In a bid to cater to more diverse price points (just like with handsets), some Honeycomb tablets could potentially compromise the fluid user experience that you’d get on a tablet based around the Tegra 2 for instance. Also, there’s no word yet on whether Google will allow custom UIs with Honeycomb. As we all know, custom UIs have traditionally been the cause for delayed OS updates on several Android handsets. Although a lot of handsets now run Froyo, the Nexus S is the only handset officially running Gingerbread. Its almost been two months since Gingerbread was released, and even the Nexus One is yet to receive an official update. Google therefore needs to work more closely with manufacturers to ensure updates get pushed to devices in a timely manner.

Additionally, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding how exactly some of the new features in Honeycomb would eventually transition down to phone versions of Android. Google has been mildly successful at decoupling some core OS apps such as Maps as standalone downloads, but that still hasn’t completely mitigated the problem.

As I mentioned earlier, Google’s solution to this problem is Ice Cream; the next release of Android aimed at establishing a feature set parity between tablet and phone versions of the OS. Again, we’re not exactly sure about the timelines (although Mr. Schmidt did mention a 6-month release cycle) or the exact features that will make the cut in the next release. However, we can be reasonably sure that many of the under-the-hood enhancements like an updated Dalvik VM, support for multi-core SoCs, 2D/3D hardware acceleration and compatibility with apps written for Honeycomb should make the cut.

When I look at some of the decisions that Google has made with Android, it seems the platform lacks a logical progression from one release to another. For example, Gingerbread completely changed the look of the OS to a more darker and boxy UI. While the rationale behind the darker UI was justified because of potential power savings on AMOLED screens, a similar justification cannot be found for the latter. The Honeycomb UI is a far more drastic departure; thankfully its changes look to be functionality driven given the unique set of requirements a tablet poses. Constant changes to the Android UI do detract from its ability to establish a recognizable identity in the market.

Price is another issue if Honeycomb tablets need to stay competitive in the market. While more expensive tablet price points are tempting, a major strength of Android has been its ability to hit lower price points. For Honeycomb to be successful we need to see tablets priced at an iPad-competitive $499 in addition to the more expensive options we've been hearing about.

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  • jrs77 - Monday, February 21, 2011 - link

    I'm the typical nerd using a plethora of different devices and software. My desktop is running Windows 7, my HTPC is running Ubuntu+XBMC, my MacBookPro is MacOS X and my Nokia is running Symbian.

    If I would use all Apple products there, then my experience would be consistent throughout all the devices. Hardware and software being developed to work flawlessly etc.

    If I'm going to use Android x86 for my PCs and Android 2.3 for my phone and Android 3.0 for my tablet etc, then it simply wouldn't be anymore consistent then the plethora of different OS and devices I'm using currently, so it actually doesn't offer anything I'd desire.

    If the manufacturers now start to tweak Android for their devices then the devices get even more differentiated then what I allready have today.

    Imho, the Android OS should be allways the same, so that I can switch from one Android-tablet to another and then to my smartphone without problems because of a different UI etc and the hardware for all those devices should be the way, that the experience is aswell the same, e.g. apps loading as fast as on the other devices etc.

    Apple achieves this consistency and it's the reason for their success.
  • bplewis24 - Monday, February 21, 2011 - link

    Then go with Apple, if that's what you want. You may not be able to conceive the concept that other people may not want what you want, but that doesn't mean it's not possible.

    And if you really believe that is the reason for Apple's success, I feel sorry for you.

  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    I disagree, IMO there need to be substantial differences in the interface design based on the usage model. An interface that works well on a <4" touchscreen is likely not the best option for a desktop using a 24" screen with keyboard and mouse.
  • bplewis24 - Monday, February 21, 2011 - link

    All what devices? Apple makes one device per generational year. This "fragmentation" argument is bunk.

    Would you be happier if blu-ray manufacturers only sold one type of blu-ray machine per year, or do you appreciate the fact that they "fragment" themselves with several models of players at different price points, hardware features and functionality each release cycle?

    Yet when phone manufacturers offer cheaper phones with cheaper hardware and lesser features, it's "fragmentation" that is going to kill off the brand? Hardly. The only thing it does it ruin brand-awareness for mainstream consumers who know nothing about technology and believe that an OS manufacturer is the same as a hardware manufacturer.

    These people thus believe an Android 1.6 device made by Archos is representative of a Android 3.0 device made by HTC with an Nvidia T20 SoC. For those people, maybe Apple is best, as with their ecosystem it's very easy to live in that sheltered bubble.

  • spambonk - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    You overlook that the whole point is to be different on different devices. Android are for people who can make up their own mind, and not have others do it for them.
  • TareX - Monday, February 21, 2011 - link

    While I think it's "nice" Google is waiting till the end of May to announce Ice Cream, I think there are two features of Honeycomb Android needs to get pronto:

    1) UI HW Acceleration
    2) Multi-language support in the browser

    I mean I can't believe in 2011, Android's browser can't recognize Arabic text, for example.
  • TareX - Monday, February 21, 2011 - link

    How smooth did Flash run in Honeycomb's browser? I realize it hasn't been released for Honeycomb yet (ver 10.2) but you can download it from the market. Doe sit make use of Tegra 2's GPU acceleration?
  • Jumangi - Monday, February 21, 2011 - link

    Apparently the Xoom won't ship with Flash support....but get it 'sometime in the Spring'.
  • Pjotr - Monday, February 21, 2011 - link

    "This is a huge addition as it Again, the UI is extremely clean and should work well on tablets."?
  • Saumitra - Monday, February 21, 2011 - link




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