By Barry Levine / Top Tech News. Updated February 23, 2011.
Google on Tuesday released the software development kit for its tablet-optimized version 3.0 of Android, also known as Honeycomb. The SDK gives developers the tools and application programming interfaces, or APIs, needed to create apps for the platform. In addition, the search giant is rolling out 2.3.3 of its smartphone-targeted Gingerbread version of Android.
The SDK could help Motorola's Xoom tablet, which is the first tablet using Honeycomb.
Xoom is scheduled to launch Friday, and a steady stream of apps that take advantage of its 10.1-inch touchscreen and Honeycomb's tablet-optimized features could help the device in its uphill fight to gain a foothold in the iPad-dominated category. Honeycomb-based tablets are also expected from Toshiba, Samsung, LG, Acer, ASUS and others in the near future.
Honeycomb in the Tablet Wars
Three weeks ago, Google shipped a preview version of the SDK. The company said improvements since then include the ADT plug-in, a new app palette with categories and rendering previews, a more accurate rendering of device-specific layouts, selection-sensitive action bars to manipulate View properties, improvements to zoom, and improved support to merge layouts and create layouts with gesture overlays.
Honeycomb could become a major factor in the tablet wars, as it will be the key to establishing Android's position as a tablet-specific alternative to Apple's iPad and iOS.
Earlier this month, Hewlett-Packard unveiled its TouchPad tablet, which uses a tablet-optimized version of webOS. HP has been open about the fact that the webOS platform was the single largest reason it acquired the struggling Palm last summer for $1.2 billion.
There's also Research In Motion's new PlayBook, which uses a RIM-specific OS, and a variety of Windows 7 tablets.
Samsung's Android-powered Galaxy Tab has reportedly sold two million units, but it uses the earlier Android version 2.2, which was adapted for tablet use by Samsung. Before Honeycomb, Android was specifically designed for smartphones and similar form factors. Google has emphasized that the new OS was designed "from the ground up" with tablets in mind.
The exact features of Honeycomb are still being revealed, but extensive multitasking, a range of customizable widgets, support for near field communication e-wallets, a new system bar with notifications, a revamped web browser with a 3D rendering engine, and a gyroscope are known.
While Google is priming application development for version 3.0, it's also rolling out version 2.3.3 of its smartphone-targeted Gingerbread OS. The first recipients are HTC's Nexus One and Samsung's Nexus S smartphones, which will be updated via downloads.
The newest version of Gingerbread includes the ability to write NFC tags in addition to reading them, better speech recognition, and API support for Bluetooth over a nonsecure socket connection.