Google Sets Sights on Tablet-centric Android

On the same day that Google released its "Gingerbread" platform, it also debuted its soon-to-be-released Android platform tailored specifically for tablets.

Unwrapping Google's Android "Gingerbread" gift

Andy Rubin, Google's vice president of engineering, showed off Android 3.0 (a.k.a. Honeycomb) on a prototype Motorola tablet that he says isn't due to hit the market "for a while." Rubin didn't go into great detail about Honeycomb's capabilities, although he did show how its support for 3D graphics could be used to provide 3G street views of the Google Maps application.

The big news is that Rubin confirmed that while Honeycomb would be a tablet-centric operating system, it would also run well on smartphones. Unlike previous versions of Android, which are optimized solely for smartphones and not for tablets, Honeycomb will apparently be optimized for both.

"We've added new APIs to Honeycomb… that allow the app to split functionality to multiple views and multiple columns," says Rubin, explaining how Google is making Honeycomb work on both types of devices. "The same app that runs here will run on a phone… But on a tablet the app will express itself a different way."

Rubin would not give a specific date for when Honeycomb would be released and would only say it would come out sometime next year. Samsung's Galaxy Tab is currently the only tablet that runs on Android, although it uses the 2.2 "Froyo" edition that is not optimized for tablets. Google has said that tablets based on non-Honeycomb editions of Android will not properly run applications downloaded from the Android App Market.

Versions of Google's Android mobile operating system, which are typically nicknamed after sweets, tend to come out every six months or so. This year has seen the launch of the Froyo platform, which added several key enterprise features such as IT password enforcement and remote wipe, as well as the Gingerbread platform, which added communications functionalities such as a Near-Field Communications Reader and SIP-based VoIP calling.

Android has gone from being virtually nonexistent three years ago to being one of the most popular mobile operating systems in the world. IMS Research has projected that Android will become a force in the tablet market, as it will capture 15% of the market next year and 28% of the market by the end of 2015. IMS says Android, Apple OS and Windows will dominate the tablet market next year, as the three operating systems will combine to take more than 92% of total market share.

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