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Google Shares Some Honeycomb Candy

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Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) still hasn't officially released the Honeycomb version of Android -- no launch party, no free tablets to prominent bloggers, no partner products about to hit store shelves.

What we do have, however, is lots of information about Honeycomb, including its app developer tools.

What's new?
This is a very different animal from the versions that have gone before, such as Froyo or Gingerbread. Right up front in the platform-highlights rundown, Google tells us that Honeycomb "is specifically optimized for devices with larger screen sizes, particularly tablets."

The new interface attempts to make use of more screen space by presenting icons and screens in a "vibrant, 3D experience." Apps written specifically for Honeycomb will enjoy the richest set of interactive improvements, but even apps designed for older Android devices such as existing smartphones will see improvements here and there.

In a smartphone paradigm, which is what Android has been until now, everything you do is expected to fill the entire screen with a single task. Honeycomb is different and closer to the multi-window user experience you know from Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Windows and other desktop environments. To be sure, many apps will probably still use up the whole screen out of old habit or a desire to grab every ounce of your attention, but it's no longer a requirement.

There are numerous other changes from a user's perspective, including refreshed graphics for everything and a default Web browser that looks and feels more like the desktop version of Chrome. But the biggest changes are happening under the hood.

The big news isn't flashy
Remember how Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) complained that a streaming video application for Android is difficult to do because of a lack of a consistent DRM framework from one device to the next? Honeycomb takes steps toward fixing that problem by adding an extensible DRM framework.

It's still not a monolithic DRM solution on par with Microsoft's PlaysForSure or Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) FairPlay, but the aim is to provide a single programming interface to a variety of underlying DRM mechanisms. Is that enough to make a blanket Netflix-streaming application possible for all Honeycomb tablets? I don't know, but here's hoping. Netflix video has served Apple's marketing well, and Android would surely do better in the marketplace with video-laden killer apps like that.

Android's chip partners will also love this new version, because it will make them look good. Dual-core processors (or more) from NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA  ) , Texas Instruments (NYSE: TXN  ) , and Marvell Technology Group (Nasdaq: MRVL  ) will take advantage of changes in the Dalvik virtual machine to suck more performance out of high-powered chips. Previous Android versions will run on multi-core chips but are optimized to work best in a single-processor environment.

Moreover, Honeycomb supports hardware acceleration of both 2-D and 3-D graphics. That's another way to make better use of the available, specialized hardware in modern phones. It will also be easier to design and program 3-D scenes into Android apps, thanks to a new scripting engine known as Renderscript. It's safe to say that the graphics of Honeycomb tablets will be a major selling point.

What's next?
This is the long-awaited Android update that makes the platform a contender in the tablet arena. If only all this goodness had been available six months ago, the iPad might have some real competition by now.

As it stands, Honeycomb is an impressive piece of work with much to like for both developers and users. But it has yet to hit the street, and Apple is probably busy right now putting the finishing touches on the iPad 2. As awesome as the first Honeycomb tablets might be, they are being fired at a moving target.

With the developer tools readily available, Google must be close to holding that missing launch party, and then there's the next Apple shindig as mentioned above. In a matter of weeks, our view of the tablet market will be much clearer, with lots of news to ponder from both sides of the conflict.

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Google and Netflix but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. Google and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Valuerecommendations. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Apple, Netflix, and NVIDIA are Motley Fool Stock Advisorrecommendations. The Fool has written puts on Apple. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, Marvell, Microsoft, and Texas Instruments. You think we like tablets? Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.

Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2011, at 4:51 AM, Henry3Dogg wrote:

    Anders, if this article were about The iPad, it would be dripping with bile. There would be cynical pokes at each claim or feature.

    But since it is Android you are willing to quote the marketing claims pretty much as your own words.

    Why is that?

  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2011, at 5:25 AM, Henry3Dogg wrote:

    Context for the above

    March 10

    "I think I've mentioned this once or twice before, but it bears repeating until it sinks in: the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPad is not unique, nor necessarily the best of breed in the media tablet sector it is spearheading. And it ain't gonna help Apple shareholders any.

    Sure, the iPad will sell a few million units to the Apple faithful, of whom there are many. Being very little else than an oversized iPod Touch". Anders Bylund March '10

    "Apple's aesthetics may be unmatched, but the iPad's functionality isn't -- yet. I can see sales trailing off rather than picking up as consumers realize that there are other choices on the market already. That won't hurt Apple much, but somebody should give Steve Jobs a hug. He must be disappointed.". Anders Bylund April '10

    "The iPad got a head start and caters to a crowd of raving fans...". Anders Bylund May '10

    Is Anders Bylund an alias for Scott Moritz?

  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2011, at 5:35 AM, Henry3Dogg wrote:

    "Get unbiased Financial Insight from The Motley Fool "

    Oh dear!

  • Report this Comment On January 31, 2011, at 6:28 AM, Henry3Dogg wrote:

    "Honeycomb supports hardware acceleration of both 2-D and 3-D graphics.". You mean that the current Android devices don't use hardware acceleration when iPhone has being doing so for nearly 4 years, and you never mentioned it before?

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