January 07, 2011, 11:16 AM — Google's Android operating system is about to get a lot bigger -- literally.
Google took the wraps off Android Honeycomb, the latest edition of its mobile OS, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas this week. So why serve up another new version when the last one, Android Gingerbread, is barely out of the oven? It's simple: Unlike Gingerbread, Honeycomb isn't made for your phone.
Honeycomb, as Google explains it, is "built entirely for tablet." It'll appear on devices like Motorola's Xoom Android tablet and a slew of other products set to launch soon. Make no mistake about it: The Android tablet army is here, and it's ready to do battle.
Think of Honeycomb as the tablets' secret weapon. Here's the lowdown on what it's all about and what it'll bring to the table.
Android Honeycomb: The Interface
The first thing you notice about Honeycomb is that it's a whole new experience from the Android we've come to know. The software was "designed from the ground up," Google says, with a focus on delivering an enhanced version of Android made specifically for large-form gadgets.
Honeycomb features a revamped interface Google engineers describe as "truly virtual and holographic." In place of hardware buttons, the software features an on-screen navigation bar that appears at the bottom of the display, regardless of which way you orient the device. Simple multitasking and customization take center stage. And the home screen itself takes on a very different look from previous smartphone-focused Android releases.
The updated appearance is partially due to the prominence of new punched-up widgets, redesigned for a more interactive experience: You can scroll through your inbox with the new Gmail widget, for example, or browse through your upcoming appointments with the updated calendar widget. Honeycomb can also create a custom widget for any person in your contact list; once on your home screen, it displays a comprehensive stream of updates and activity for that person on all of the services where the two of you are connected.