Two Google developers demonstrated Android 3.0, the first version of the open source mobile operating system supporting tablets. The so-called Honeycomb release is also the first version to support hardware acceleration and multicore processors.
Google has yet to announce a general release date for the Honeycomb source code. Last week, Motorola launched its Xoom tablet using the OS, running several applications developed in tandem with the systems software.
"Honeycomb is all about the tablet, but along the way we made a lot of general improvements in the user interface," adding new rendering and animation engines, said Chet Haase, a Google UI developer who showed the software to an audience of more than 400 at the Android Developer Conference here.
A version of the software geared for smartphones is still in the works with no public release date given. It could emerge as early as May at the annual Google I/O event.
Honeycomb uses the OpenGL applications programming interface for 2-D graphics, video acceleration and a new 3-D engine from Google called Renderscript.
Renderscript has been in the works for three years, uses the C99 language and can be used both for graphics and compute jobs. The software can automate the work of using multiple cores in a host processor without requiring developers to generate threads. A future version will let compute jobs be split among graphics and host processors, probably using the OpenCL API.
"We added a lot of hardware acceleration with this release," said Guy. "We used GPUs before, but we weren’t really taking advantage of them across the interface," he said.
Honeycomb comes with hardware acceleration turned off by default. Developers can enable the feature globally or turn it on or off in selected areas of their apps. Motorola chose to enable hardware acceleration throughout its Xoom tablet.
Honeycomb supports USB keyboards, a first for Android. Work is going on to support other USB devices. The Android OS which originally supported just 40 Mbytes main memory, now supports up to a Gbyte.
A new animation framework lets developers animate any object or property.
Honeycomb does away with hardware navigation buttons given users are expected to flip tablets regularly between landscape and portrait modes. Instead it uses a system bar always present at the bottom of the screen but sometimes toned down in a "LightsOut" mode in apps such as an e-book reader.
The OS also does away with menus, using a so-called action bar at the top of the screen to navigate through applications. Developers have full control of the look and feel of the action bar.
About two dozen OEMs now ship more than 150 Android devices that ride on more than 150 carrier networks in nearly 100 countries. The devices have access to a library of more than 150,000 apps, and each day about 300,000 Android devices are activated for the first time, said Haase.