Google demonstrated Honeycomb’s features, as well as new apps developed by partners for the new operating system, using Motorola Xoom tablets, which are set to become available through Verizon in March. The tablet’s dual-core processor is more efficient and powerful than previous mobile chips, allowing slick 3-D graphics, among other features.
Aric Cheston, a creative director with Frog Design, says some changes unveiled by Google do challenge Apple. For example, an upgrade to the Android market makes it possible to browse Android apps using a web browser and with a few clicks have that app it automatically install on their tablet remotely. Honeycomb is also tightly integrated with Google’s web services – for example the camera has one-click upload to Youtube.
One major departure is that users can install “widgets” onto their home screen. These widgets provide cut down access to apps and at-a-glance information. For example, a Gmail widget places a small but scrollable in-box onto the desktop. YouTube and news apps such as Pulse use a “stacks” widget, which appears like a stack of cards with the latest information—like a news photo—on the top card. A user can tap on that card to enter the app and see the full content, or flick a finger over the widget to cruise through other information in the stack.
Widgets are considered to be the biggest improvement over the iPad. “With these widgets, the user can interact a lot with their most-used apps without even opening them.
Apps can feature multiple panes, or “fragments”, and also support drag-and-drop actions, which makes using them closer to the experience of using a desktop application. Support for apps built using fragments is built into Honeycomb, said Barra. Fragments are self-contained and can be used to build apps for phones and tablets in a modular way, he said, which should speed the creation of apps.