Will Android Honeycomb come to smartphones?

Article copyright 2011 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

Android Honeycomb Smartphones

From what we've seen of Google's Android Honeycomb so far, the software seems to be geared toward tablets. Not just optimized for tablets, mind you -- but practically made for them.

The clues have been pretty clear: Google's official preview video declared Honeycomb to be "built entirely for tablet." The company's introductory blog described the release as being "designed from the ground up for devices with larger screen sizes, particularly tablets."

Despite the focus of those messages, though, there may be more to the story.

Android Honeycomb and Smartphones

Little by little, evidence is starting to stack up that suggests Honeycomb -- in some shape or form -- will eventually extend its reach past tablets and onto Android phones. It may or may not be this exact incarnation of the OS, but it certainly seems like something is in the works.

Consider these facts:

  • When first teasing Honeycomb and the Motorola Xoom tablet at an All Things Digital mobile conference last month, Google Android chief Andy Rubin carefully avoided describing Honeycomb as a tablet-only OS. During the session, reporter Walt Mossberg asked Rubin whether Honeycomb was "just a version of Android that happens to work well on tablets" or "a tablet version of Android." Rubin's response: "It's both, I would say."

    Motorola Android Tablet

    In that same session, Rubin demoed the new Honeycomb Gmail application, noting that the app "will run on a phone, but on a tablet ... can express itself in different ways." He was talking about the Honeycomb-enabled ability for apps to utilize multiple on-screen panes. Rubin went on to explain: "We added new APIs to Honeycomb, and then they'll be available on phones -- we call them fragments -- that allow an application to split its functionality to multiple views." He specified further, saying that the views would be "one after another" on a phone versus side-by-side on a tablet.

  • During last week's Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, Google Android User Experience Director Matias Duarte sat down with the crew from Engadget. Throughout the 25-minute interview, he spilled quite a few interesting nuggets about the Honeycomb release and how it'll play into Android's future.

    At one point, Engadget editor-in-chief Joshua Topolsky commented that Honeycomb seemed "targeted, to start with, at just tablets right now." Duarte responded: "Well, the sneak peek we gave you today was Honeycomb on tablets."

    Duarte later said that "what you see in Honeycomb is absolutely the direction for Android." He discussed Honeycomb's new virtual on-screen buttons -- which, in some of the upcoming tablets, will replace the hardware buttons traditionally seen on Android phones. When asked whether that same approach would apply to future smartphone devices, Duarte said "it can," adding that "the future of Android is that [Google isn't] going to dictate whether you need to have buttons or not" and that manufacturers would be able to make that choice for any given device. Duarte also noted that Honeycomb's new on-screen application bar would scale to a phone-sized device.

    Toward the end of the session, Duarte mentioned again that what we've seen of Honeycomb so far is "a sneak peek" and promised more surprises were on the way.

  • Remember those rumors that Honeycomb wouldn't run on single-core systems?  Yeah...they were wrong. Android team member Dan Morrill recently took to Twitter to dispel that myth, confirming that Honeycomb has "no hard minimum processor requirement."

  • Sony, according to TechRadar, has publicly stated that its new Xperia Arc -- yes, a smartphone -- will be upgraded to Honeycomb once the software becomes available. A UK-based representative is quoted as referencing the company's recent "challenges" with Android upgrades (translation: its total flub-up with the Xperia X10) and promising to "be a hell of a lot quicker in the future."

All together, it sure seems like something's cooking beyond just tablets in Google's Honeycomb kitchen.

Android Power Twitter

It makes sense, too: Without some sort of convergence, Android's upgrade path would fork off in two totally separate directions -- and Google's decision to continue with its single alphabetical naming scheme would be a bit perplexing if that were the plan.

Right now, Google's clearly focused on getting Honeycomb finished and onto the rapidly forming Android tablet army -- not to mention getting Android Gingerbread in the hands of more smartphone owners -- but keep your ears open. Honeycomb is a new beginning for Android, and from the looks of it, that beginning won't be limited to any single type of device.

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Facebook, on Twitter, or at eSarcasm, his geek-humor getaway.

Article copyright 2011 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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