Honeycomb may soon be coming to Android phones as well as tablets

When, or if, Google will release a smartphone version of Honeycomb isn't exactly clear, but some recent information indicates that it may - and sooner rather than later.

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Virtually all of the coverage of Google's Honeycomb release of Android has focused on what the revamped mobile OS will bring to tablets. That isn't surprising since Honeycomb is designed specifically as a tablet-optimized version of Android. In doing so, Google is revamping the home screen, notification system, and offering developers access to a range of features that can be used to create/update apps so that they take advantage of the extra screen dimensions and tablet-specific hardware.

One big question about Honeycomb remains largely unanswered: will it support smartphones? If so, what features will be available on handsets and when will Honeycomb be available to them?

The answer, as one might assume, is that Honeycomb (or a variation of it) will eventually find its way onto Android phone. Although this was a pretty easy assumption, Google hasn't provided much in the way of information on the matter.

With or without Google's consent, Adobe appears to have broken the news that a Honeycomb version will be available for smartphones at some point. That point is also likely to be sooner than later according the company.

At a recent Adobe event, the company's An up Muraka implied that Honeycomb and Flash 10.2 will be available "in the next few weeks". Although not explicitly mentioning Honeycomb, Muraka referred to Flash 10.2, which plays back web video using fewer CPU cycles than earlier Flash versions. That is what he specifically referred to as coming to tablets and smartphones.

The current releases of Android, however, cannot process video using Flash 10.2. Google actually added the required capabilities to Honeycomb in order to support the updated version of Flash. Put that fact and Muraka's comment together and the logical conclusion is that Android smartphones will need Honeycomb (or a variation of it) available in order to run Flash 10.2 in a few weeks. It isn't the hardest evidence, but it seems to be on the convincing end of the spectrum.

Another piece of corroborating information comes from Ars Technica. When the Honeycomb SDK was initially released, team members at Ars attempted to force Honeycomb to launch in the SDK's simulator using a device configuration similar to a smartphone rather than the default tablet configuration. The attempt was included in their initial review (near the end).

The attempt had mixed results. Honeycomb did boot, but the launcher service crashed immediately on completing the boot process. What may be most interesting is that the error generated by the crash was formatted as an error would appear on an Android phone rather than on a tablet. That implies that at least some of Honeycomb's code is designed to support installation on a handset. Again, it isn't irrefutable evidence, but it implies Google may be working on developing a version of Honeycomb that will run on smartphone hardware, though it may not be included in the initial Honeycomb release.

Google isn't under any requirement to bring Honeycomb to smartphone hardware. The company could produce two different Android versions that are completely separate at the outset and remain separate indefinitely. However, there is a general consensus that mobile platforms supporting both smartphone and tablet hardware would be better to adopt Apple's single-version strategy. That approach simplifies the release features for IT professionals and end users. It also ensures feature parity between device types. However, Android already suffers from some degree of platform fragmentation, which Google doesn't consider a problem. With that in mind, the company may not see a need to unify its smartphone and tablet OS versions.

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at www.ryanfaas.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

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