Honeycomb On Tap for Android Tablets After Gingerbread Update

Fall is a great season for Gingerbread, the next version of the Android OS, as there's some speculation the upgrade will be out next week, but the buzz is already being eclipsed by hankerings for Honeycomb, which will be the mobile operating system from Google designed specifically for tablets.

News of the tablet-dedicated Android OS first surfaced in early September. HP Wong, Samsung's chief of product planning, let it slip at the IFA tech conference in Berlin that future tablet PCs from the South Korean manufacturer -- issued after the Galaxy Tab -- would be based on Honeycomb, an Android fork optimized for tablet PCs. And, this week, competitor LG Electronics declared it would delay its Android tablet, initially slated to run Android 2.2 like the Galaxy Tab, until Honeycomb is available, according to Reuters.

If reports are true, Android 2.2, or Froyo, will be followed by Gingerbread, labeled version 3.0, which could come out as early as Oct. 15. Honeycomb, which may be upgrade version 3.1, 3.2 or 3.5, according to several educated guesses by industry observers, should be out by early 2011.

For now, Google is only confirming that Gingerbread will "be out by the end of the year," and that Honeycomb "will address the unique aspects of tablet form factors and use cases."

The news of Honeycomb comes at a time when the tablet PC market is taking off, as vendors rush to offer a competitor to Apple's iPad, which fills the niche between laptops and smartphones. Recently, a spate of Android tablets have been announced, with some shipping in time for the holidays, like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and some not, like the Cisco Cius.

Research In Motion also jumped into the burgeoning tablet market with the unveiling of the BlackBerry PlayBook, due out this fall, running a new OS based on QNX RTOS software.

At least one analyst says Google's move to offer a tablet-optimized OS is prudent. "Android must have a tablet version, or risk having each vendor do their own unique extensions. I do think Google understands this and will offer tablet support on the next version (after Gingerbread)," Jack Gold, CEO of research and analyst firm J. Gold Associates, told EnterpriseMobileToday.com. "It’s about support for the various form factors, larger screens, camera, other things the device supports, including any special drivers needed, special motions of the hand... So its not a completely new OS, it really is a fine tuning to support the new ways of interacting with the device."

Meanwhile, the current Android version Froyo marked a significant upgrade that provided many enterprise-friendly features, but Gingerbread is widely expected to focus on multimedia and gaming tools and resources. Here's what's expected for Gingerbread: support for WebM video playback, improved copy-and-paste functionality, support for an Android Market music store service, media streaming, a revamped UI, support for larger screens, support for WebP image files and enhanced 3D game support.

Carriers and handset makers are currently still rolling out the Froyo update to smartphones such as the Droid and Droid X, while new models, such as the Droid Pro and new myTouch, are shipping soon with Android 2.2.


Google, Android, tablet PC, Gingerbread, Honeycomb