SlashGear 101: What is Android 3.0 Honeycomb?

Google is well known for search and for its advertising program, but over the past few years the company's phone software, Android, has been making waves in stores across the world. Flexible enough to be easily modified by handset manufacturers and powerful enough to take on Apple's iPhone, Android has carved itself a growing niche in smartphones; now Google is turning its attention to tablets, and it's using Android 3.0 Honeycomb to do it. Read on for the full SlashGear 101 rundown.

Android is for phones, isn't it?

We've already covered the basic premise of Android in a previous SlashGear 101, Google's freely-available phone software that has already taken a huge bite out of the mobile world. Although it's best known for being on phones, manufacturers have already tried putting Android on bigger-screen devices, like the Samsung Galaxy Tab which used the same version of Android as from the company's phones but on a 7-inch tablet.

Honeycomb, however, is Google's attempt at software for tablets done properly. It uses the same sort of underlying code as the phones, but optimized for touchscreens around 7-inches or larger.

So it's just phone software made bigger?

Not quite. Google has pretty much reworked the entire user interface of Honeycomb so that it takes advantage of tablet-scale screens. Not just a phone homescreen stretched out, but a new set of icons and widgets (tiny mini-apps that live on the homescreen and offer quick-glance updates for things like Facebook statuses and new emails) along with live thumbnail previews of apps running in the background.

Third-party apps can be coded to take advantage of the bigger displays too, though regular software intended to be used on Android smartphones – and which far outnumber tablet-specific titles in the Android Market – scale up to fit. Google has created a system called "Fragments" for developers to use, which allows them to make apps for both phones and tablets that juggle different parts of the interface, either showing them one at a time on a smaller cellphone screen, or several at the same time on a tablet screen.

Is it better than the iPad?

Like Android phones versus the iPhone, it's not necessarily better, just different. Opinions on both platforms rage strong, and each has its strengths and comparative weaknesses. Again, as with phones running Google's software, one of Honeycomb's main advantages is in its flexibility: manufacturers can choose to modify the interface and other aspects of the software if they see fit, and there's more room for third-party software to change the overall tablet experience.

That should eventually lead to more personalized tablets, though right now the shortage of tablet-focused software is Honeycomb's primary drawback. While the iPad has had more than a year to build a solid catalog of apps scaled perfectly to its screen size, Android apps aren't yet up to the same speed. Still, many Honeycomb tablet buyers will do so with an eye on the incoming spoils, prizing Android's versatility and the potential it offers.

What's next?

More software, more tablets, and generally more choice. As we found in our Android Honeycomb review, Google is off to a solid start with its new platform; what it needs now is manufacturers putting it on new models and software providers coming up with compelling apps to run on it. That's likely to take place as we move through 2011.

For more information on Android – in both phone and tablet flavors – check out our sibling site and the bustling forums at Android Community!