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The Five Biggest Revelations from Google's Android Honeycomb Event

By Ryan Whitwam

Google is taking some big steps. Here are the ones we think are the most important.

Wednesday was the day Android fanatics have been waiting for. Google's Android event revealed much about the platform's tablet ambitions, but also stepped things up in the app space. Honeycomb was fully demoed on the Motorola Xoom, but that's not all we saw. Google is moving aggressively to spur app development. Almost everything they showed today should give app developers a little tingle. 


 

Honeycomb user interface fully demoed



finally). They call this a "line item veto". Oh, Google. Google also showed off an enhanced music notification that we hope is part of an open API. You can actually control playback from it. 

Even with games and various apps running, multitasking was super smooth. The live previews looked excellent. When it comes down to it, the whole OS looked very polished. More polished than we are accustomed to seeing in a new version of Android. This is really the biggest jump since Android was launched.  

Media gets a boost in Honeycomb


 
Renderscript is also working behind the scenes to make Google Books a more visually appealing app. It has that page flip animation that Apple was so proud of last year, but it looks maybe even a little smoother here. Google Body is another app taking advantage of the robust 3D framework in Honeycomb. This is an anatomical map that lets users toggle on different body systems and search for bones and muscles.

The music notification mentioned earlier is part of a new Music app in Honeycomb, and it is about time. Music has been one of the sore spots for Android this entire time. Renderscript is used to create a beautiful 3D album art gallery. It is reminiscent of Cover Flow, but the whole UI is much improved. Taking images was also a pain point in Android, but the camera interface is excellent in Honeycomb. There are stylish transparent controls and plenty of options. 

Tablet optimized apps and games

Monster Madness on the Xoom 


It's not just limited to games. CNN showed a new iReport app with a much more tablet friendly UI. We got a good look at the core Google apps, redesigned for tablets. Gmail now has a dual-column view, and the extra space makes threaded emails look super useful. When you open messages, the columns shift to make room for the conversation. Google calls these movable panes Fragments. You can also see the new app bar at work at the top of the page. This removes the need for digging around in sub-menus by surfacing contextual functions.  

Google Talk was shown off again, complete with video chat. This was a more extensive demo than before. Your image is shown in the corner as captured by the front-facing camera, just like you'd expect. The entire screen is the video chat, with some options down the side. Image quality was good, but there was a noticeable delay over Wi-Fi. We'll have to wait and see how it works over cellular data. 

Web-based Android Market



A service called AppBrain used to be able to do this, before Google broke their workaround. Now Google has gone a step further allowing both free apps (like AppBrain) and paid apps to be installed OTA.  You can even manage multiple devices with the web Market. All those changes to the Market options a few months back have been put to good use. There are large splash graphics, lots of screen shots, and even YouTube video links. 



In-app Purchases

On the iOS platform, developers often rely on in-app purchases to distribute additional content. This has always been missing from Android, but not anymore. Google has created an in-app purchase SDK that will be rolling out to the general developer population in a few weeks. Some close partners have already been given access to give us a preview.  

The folks behind TapTap Revenge 4 were kind enough to show us how the system will work. The transactions are handled on a screen that looks like the new Android Market's  purchase screen. All the usual payment options are there, including carrier billing. TapTap has been in development for a while, but the in-app purchase API was only integrated five days ago. This leads us to believe it will be trivial for devs to add. 
  
  
Google came out swinging in this event. Honeycomb on the Motorola Xoom is looking sleek and functional. Seeing some tablet specific apps has eased some of our apprehension about the application ecosystem. Seeing that Google has finally done something about that music app probably feels more significant than it is, just because it has been bad for so long. Still, the new media apps look great. Similarly, the in-app purchasing should appease developers. For the consumers, the new web-based Market looks like a huge step forward in making finding apps easier on the platform. What was most interesting to you in the Google Android event?