Welcome to Honeycomb

The first Android tablets were laughable. Without changes to the UI Android doesn’t scale well to a larger screen, not to mention the lack of tablet specific apps Oh but what’s this? Android’s all grown up:

It doesn’t look like iOS but it surely doesn’t look like any version of Android we’ve seen before. Honeycomb is Google stating plainly that it can tear up blueprints and reinvent itself with the best of them.

Pick up any Android phone and you’ll see four buttons, either capacitive touch or physical switch, along the bottom of the front face: Home, Menu, Back and Search. The order was up to manufacturer interpretation but all four had to be present. Honeycomb nixes two (Search and Menu) and adds one (Tasks). Google also moved the buttons from the screen bezel to on the screen itself - the buttons aren’t just capacitive, they are a part of the OS.


Back, Home, Tasks

The order is fixed: Back, Home and Tasks. As of now there’s no customizing the Honeycomb UI - say goodbye to Motoblur, Sense and TouchWiz. The location is also fixed: bottom left. My biggest complaint here are the icons themselves, they are unnecessarily ambiguous at first sight and do take some getting used to for Android and iOS users alike.

The entire UI motif is Tron meets Robocop. Swipe between home screens and you’ll get a thin blue outline of the previous/next screens as you move. The fonts used for links at the top of the page are more expected, while everything along the bottom of the screen is a bit more 80s sci-fi. I don’t personally believe this is ultimately what Google will settle on for tablet UIs, but it shows a willingness to try something new and different, which is the quickest way to ensure that Android will remain relevant as this market evolves.

I suspect the ideal tablet UI is probably not too far off what modern desktop OSes have become. While a smartphone’s UI must be dramatically different due to the lack of screen real estate, a tablet UI just needs to be more efficient than its desktop counterpart - not necessarily very different.

I believe Google is beginning to realize this as Honeycomb has some very desktop-like elements in its design. What was once a pull down shade at the top of the UI is now a notification bar in the lower right of the screen, eerily reminiscent of the Windows system tray - just not as frustratingly cluttered.


Notifications

There are also clock, WiFi and battery status indicators down there, but I’ll stop drawing parallels. The point is that this works well and I expect that we’ll continue to see a lot of convergence between the desktop and tablet OS UIs (and eventually the OSes themselves, isn’t evolution fun?).

Overall the UI is amazingly clean and very well done. It's not perfect, but I'm pleasantly surprised - all this time I thought Android was just super functional, who knew it could look great as well?

Charging & The Display Multitasking, Notifications and App Launcher
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  • punjabiplaya - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Looks good, I'm really tempted to pick one up (wifi model) if it truly is $600. Any word from Google on any updates to fix the crashing? I assume with updates (including driver optimizations) it can only get faster and there's no way that Google/Motorola isn't aware of the crashing apps. Reply
  • LeftSide - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Don't hold your breath. I have an Epic 4g and just now got the 2.2 update. Google needs to standardize their update system. Until they do, I will not buy another Android device. Waiting for months just for an outdated update, so that you can download and use the latest apps (skype) is unacceptable. Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Blame Samsung, not Google. Most HTC & Motorola devices were running 2.2 as of last September. My EVO got Froyo (2.2) in August, a mere two months after it's release (and only like there months after Froyo itself launched). People need to start doing some research and stop rewarding manufacturers that are lousy with updates, like Samsung and Sony Ericson. Reply
  • daveloft - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    I say blame the carriers. All six carriers in Canada carrying the Galaxy S device released 2.2 before any of the American carriers. This seemed to be the situation around the world as well. Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Yeah at this point it's their fault, it still took Samsung twice as long to release the updates as it took other manufacturers tho. Sprint and T-mobile recently updated their Galaxy S variants to 2.2 btw, so Verizon and AT&T are slacking off the most... Verizon has half a dozen other Android options tho, until today (Atrix) AT&T had no alternative to the Captivate, besides an iPhone. Reply
  • ph00ny - Monday, March 7, 2011 - link

    At the same time, their devices came out later those other devices. Also all the international iteration of galaxy s had froyo long before any north america based galaxy S phones. Look at HTC Aria. AT&T is the worst carrier in terms of device update due to the fact that they want to restrict the device as much as they can. Look at the issues with hsupa with atrix.

    BTW i have a captivate running 2.2.1 and i had froyo running since last year which was based on the international version of galaxy s
    Reply
  • kkwst2 - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Blame Canada. Reply
  • Milleman - Sunday, February 27, 2011 - link

    Blame Terrance and Phillip! Reply
  • punjabiplaya - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    The reason I was asking is because there is no manufacturer skin. Honeycomb is unmolested by Motorola, so Google should be able to get updates to the device without Motorola having to customize their skin, then the carrier customizing that. Reply
  • Enormously Hatworthy - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Yep, since this is the reference hardware for the platform, you'll get OTA updates directly from Google. No carriers or OEMs to screw things up.

    No word from google though... I suppose they don't want to draw attention to the bugs on the first day of release. I'd bet there'll be a quiet update issued sometime in the next week or two.
    Reply

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