Android 3.0 Honeycomb: The Android version we all forgot

Android Honeycomb statue
Android Honeycomb statue (Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

Android 3.0 Honeycomb debuted back in 2011 with a holographic UI that was clearly inspired by sci-fi elements. Google designed Honeycomb specifically for tablets, introducing a lot of new interface elements to take advantage of the added screen real estate. The interface looked like something out of Tron, and Google even added a 3D scrolling effect for browsing through albums in Play Music and videos on YouTube.

Honeycomb was introduced alongside the Motorola Xoom, and the operating system ended up on over a dozen tablets over the following 12 months. The architect of Honeycomb's UI was none other than Matias Duarte, Google's vice president of design.

Android fans will know Duarte from his work on Material Design — the design language that underpins all of Google's apps and services — but the executive kicked off his journey at Google with Honeycomb. Duarte was Palm's UI VP and the driving force behind webOS, but following Palm's sale to HP back in 2010, he moved to Google to serve as the user experience director for Android.

Honeycomb introduced on-screen navigation buttons, resizable widgets, quick settings tiles, and so much more.

Honeycomb was a huge release in the context of Android as a whole because it introduced a lot of the key UI elements that are present to this day. Most of the features that were introduced in Honeycomb made their way to phones with Ice Cream Sandwich and subsequent releases.

Let's take a quick look at just some of the highlights: on-screen navigation buttons, resizable and scrollable widgets, ability to uninstall apps easily, app previews with a card-like UI in the recents menu, a new keyboard, access to volume controls for media and alarms from a single location, and the ability to set a lock screen message in case you lose your device.

Now, all of those features should be familiar to you if you've used an Android phone in the last seven years, and it's incredible to think that they made their debut in Honeycomb. Another key addition in Honeycomb was the quick settings tiles on the notification shade. While the tiles have picked up a lot of design refreshes over the years and are more interactive now, they first showed up in Honeycomb.

Custom ROMs offered a similar set of tiles on phones running Gingerbread, but Google baked the toggles into Android with Honeycomb, making it easier for everyone to access the feature. Honeycomb also introduced device encryption, and you could connect keyboards and other accessories over USB or Bluetooth. Oh, and Bluetooth tethering also debuted with Honeycomb.

Even though Honeycomb failed, it was a key milestone in Android's growth.

Although Honeycomb had a radical new design and exciting features, it faded into obsolescence relatively soon. It was just too unstable in day-to-day use, and the tablets that ran the operating system were sub-par, to say the least. A lot of that had to do with the fact that Honeycomb was rushed out the door; Google needed a tablet-based OS to take on the iPad, and in its haste to release the OS it launched a half-baked product.

Ultimately. Honeycomb was just not fit for consumer use. Frequent app crashes, lack of Flash, laggy performance, and persistent stability issues led to the downfall of the tablet-focused OS. There was also the fact that Honeycomb was closed-source, with Google failing to provide the kernel source for the OS. Even though Google launched 3.1 and 3.2 releases to fix most of the problems, the damage was already done by that point, and Honeycomb was silently swept under the rug less than a year after its launch.

While Honeycomb failed, Google was able to salvage the best features and bring them to phones with later releases. So the next time you swipe down on the notification pane to access a quick setting tile, tap and hold on an app to delete it, or use the on-screen navigation keys on your phone, spare a thought for Honeycomb and what it did to move Android forward.

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Harish Jonnalagadda
Senior Editor - Asia

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.