Today, Google held a press event to discuss the Honeycomb version of their Android operating system which is geared toward tablets. The goal, according to Google, was to “equip developers with the best possible toolkit that we can build then just get out of the way.” There were several parts of that toolkit revealed and reviewed today. Here are some of the highlights:
The OS is optimized for larger screens and now includes tablet-friendly features such as a multitasking button which provides a scrollable visual preview of all recently used apps for quick multitasking access. Widgets can also present larger blocks of data and are now scrollable in several ways, such as standard in-widget scrolling used for e-mail, stacked widgets for pictures, and block widgets for a list of bookmarks, to give a few examples. Multitouch even allows for scrolling on two different widgets simultaneously.
Notifications are still unintrusive, but will now contain more information. For example, when receiving an IM, you will now see the picture and part of the message for a brief moment in the corner of your screen where you can choose to open the notification or ignore it. In the same corner, there is a headphone notification button when the music player is running. Tapping this brings up a small widget to play, pause, skip or adjust volume quickly and easily.
“Application fragments” work as frames within an application to allow more flexibility in how information is presented. Each fragment represents a part of the full app and the presentation can be customized more effectively with this method. This also allows new dragging features, such as dragging an e-mail message into a folder in the folder list.
A brand new graphics engine called “Renderscript” delivers a fully immersive three-dimensional experience demonstrated by the new tiltable Google Maps which features 3D buildings and by a port of the PS3 game Monster Madness. Another app highlighting these capabilities is the new Google Body, which was referred to as “the Google Maps of the human body” with 3D layers demonstrating muscle, skeleton, circulatory system and more, with all parts searchable by name.
Support for front and rear cameras means support for video chat, which was demonstrated quickly and effortlessly with a call from musician Cee-Lo Green. Image stabilization has been a major focus of the video chat functionality. The camera itself also has a new software interface which puts white balance, exposure, color effects, flash and more at your fingertips.
Also announced was a very interactive new way to find, purchase and install apps. By visiting http://market.android.com, you will be able to search and sort through apps much more efficiently. You can hotlink to individual apps using this web store and tweet that hotlink right from the site. Opening the hotlink from an Android device will take you right to the installation screen.
The app pages themselves are much more robust with the ability for developers to upload high resolution banners, larger icons, YouTube videos and more to each app’s page. A sidebar shows all other apps from the same developer. If you are browsing the market through your computer and decide you want an app, you can click “Install” and it will automatically download and install on your Android device. A “My Market Account” section shows all apps you have downloaded and makes it easy to download these to additional Android devices, helpful if you get a new phone or an additional device.
Several apps were featured to highlight added functionality including Tap Tap Revenge 4, which will be one of the first apps to allow in-app purchasing. This functionality means that you can buy bonus levels, virtual currency, premium versions of apps and more straight from the application itself for the first time. Also featured was the upcoming CNN application which, in addition to providing a rich multimedia news experience, also allows users to take photos and video of events as they happen and submit them, with text, to the network’s popular “iReport” section.
All things considered, it looks as if the tablet market is only getting hotter and hotter. Honeycomb is Google’s proverbial throwing down of the gauntlet in what should prove to be the next big technology battle. What would you like to see out of Honeycomb? Tell us in the comments!