Google Announces Honeycomb 3.1, Ice Cream Sandwich Too

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Google today announced the first major update to Honeycomb, fittingly dubbed Honeycomb 3.1. Enhancements include an updated task switcher, widget resizing and the ability for Honeycomb devices to act as a USB host.

Motorola Xoom (3G/4G) owners will be the first to get the update, which Google claims is available now. The update will roll out to other Honeycomb devices in the coming weeks.

Honeycomb Tweaks
The update brings tweaks to popular Honeycomb features, including new ability for users to resize widgets. This is especially useful with email widgets as users will no longer have to scroll through a small window to find older emails. Twitter apps will also benefit from the function.

Honeycomb Task BarWidget size is static in Honeycomb 3.0. Samsung included its own widget-resizing feature in the new TouchWiz UI skin that will be featured on the new Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and 8.9.

The task switcher (found on the far-right, lower left corner button) has been expanded to include all running or recent apps. In Honeycomb 3.0, it was limited to the five most recent apps.

Another new addition is the ability for Honeycomb devices to act as USB hosts. This means that Honeycomb devices will support USB keyboards, trackpads, game controllers, and mice. For example, users will be able to use an Xbox 360 or Sony PS3 controller to play a game from the Android Marketplace.

Also, users can directly dump pictures from a digital camera onto a Honeycomb tablet over USB. In addition, when a USB accessory is attached, Honeycomb can automatically locate the associated launch application or present a URL to download the proper app if it is not already installed.

Other Improvements
Honeycomb 3.1 also features a more efficient user interface, faster and smoother transitions and tweaks to UI element text, color and positioning, making these easier to see. Google also added consistent audio cues and users can customize the touch-hold interval.

The home button now brings users back to the most recently used of Honeycomb’s five homescreens. In 3.0, it always returned users to the central home screen.

Wi-Fi performance has been strengthened, as users can now maintain full Wi-Fi connections while the Honeycomb tablet is idle, keeping downloads or music streaming active, for example.

Also, the Honeycomb picture gallery, calendar, email, contacts, and browser have all been tweaked for improved performance.

Movies Coming
Google also announced the addition of movie rentals to the Android Market. The Honeycomb update includes a new movie player, which can play the first-run movies found in the new Android Market movie portal. Most of the thousands of available movies cost $3.99 for a 30-day rental period. However, once started, users only have 24 hours to finish watching the movie. Movies can be downloaded locally through a feature called “pinning” for times when the tablet will operate sans a data connection, like on a flight.

Google Movie

The addition of movies in the Android Market helps put to rest criticism that there is no easy way to watch movies in Android, considering Netflix and Hulu are not available for the operating system.

Finally, the new and full version of Adobe Flash 10.2 should be available following the release. Last month, Adobe claimed the Honeycomb Flash player was available, but was waiting on a Honeycomb update.

Ice Cream Sandwich Announced
Ice Cream SandwichGoogle also announced the name for the next major Android update, Ice Cream Sandwich. This version of Android will be available in Q4 and will bring Honeycomb and the smartphone versions of Android together as a single OS, built for smartphones, and tablets.

Ice Cream Sandwich will include many of the graphical flourishes found in Honeycomb, including the 3D homescreen transitions. For more information on what that means for smartphones, read Google Reuniting Android’s Smartphone and Tablet Versions on Brighthand.

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