What's new in Android 3.0 Honeycomb

We got our first real taste of Android 3.0 -- "Honeycomb" -- on the Motorola Xoom tablet during CES in early January. It's a pretty big leap from the Android we know and love today, to be sure. But most of what we saw were demonstrations, video of what Honeycomb can and will do.

But today Google released a preview of the Android 3.0 software development kit -- the tools developers need to make applications. Along with the updated SDK, Google's compiled an excellent highlights package. Join us after the break where we'll walk you through the some of the major changes, and what we can expect in the coming year.

Ed. Note: Remember that this is based off a preview of Android 3.0, and things are very likely to change. We'll update when warranted.

Designed for tablets, or at least larger screens

There's been a little back and forth about this, but make no mistake -- Honeycomb is intended for Android tablets. One look at the user interface (UI), and that's plenty apparent. But it's also going to make its way onto smartphones. Matias Duarte -- the UI guru behind webOS who later left for Google -- said as much during a recent interview.

And Google makes no bones about it in the first sentence of the highlights (emphasis ours):

Android 3.0 is a new version of the Android platform that is specifically optimized for devices with larger screen sizes, particularly tablets.

Does that mean your lowly 3.5- or even 4-inch phone won't be getting Honeycomb? Look at it this way: Anything you're holding in your hand as you read this (save for a Nexus S) is waiting on an upgrade to Android 2.3 Gingerbread -- and a good number of us are still waiting on Froyo for our phones.

Point is, when it comes to smartphones "with larger screen sizes," we're not expecting Honeycomb upgrades anytime soon, except maybe for the Nexus S. New hardware later this year is a whole 'nother matter, though.

A brand-new user interface

Holographic UI

Again, hardly a surprise, as we've seen it on the Xoom. It's being referred to as a "holographic" UI. And indeed there's very much a three-dimensional effect going on. (This is going to look way cool once 3D screens become practical.)

Home screens

Fear not, multiple home screens haven't gone anywhere. You still have five of them on which to place app icons, shortcuts and widgets. You'll be customizing everything through a "dedicated visual layout mode."

The System Bar

Somewhere, someone at Microsoft is going to go a little nuts over this. But Honeycomb has a "System Bar" that's docked at the bottom of the screen. With it you'll have your notifications (moved from the top of Android 2.3 and previous), system status, a clock and soft navigation buttons.

The Action Bar

When you're running an app -- say, like gmail -- you'll have an "Action Bar" at the top of the screen. That's another UI element that's very much in line with what you'll find on a desktop computer program -- or Windows Mobile, for those who can stand to think of it.

Multitasking and recent applications

Hey, multitasking isn't going anywhere. And we're getting a new way to switch from one app to another. There will be a "Recent Apps" list tucked into the System Bar. The list will show you a thumbnail of the app -- in the state that you last left the app.

Yes. This sounds very much like desktop computing to us, too.

A new keyboard

Makes sense. As anyone who's used the Samsung Galaxy Tab or some other Android tablet can attest, simply scaling up a current keyboard doesn't really get the job done.

Third-party keyboards are coming, too, as we know Swiftkey already has one in the works.

Revamped cut/copy/paste

This looks a lot like what we've got in Gingerbread, actually. Though going by a screen shot hardly will do it justice. After you've selected text, you can choose an action from the (you guessed it) Action Bar.

New Google apps

We're getting reworked "standard apps" (often called Google apps or Gapps) in Honeycomb.

Web browser

The browser switches to tabbed browsing instead of windows. There's also an "incognito" mode (borrowing from Chrome). You can automatically sign into Google sites, and sync bookmarks with Google Chrome on your desktop.

Multitouch support has been enabled for JavaScript and other plugins. That means a plugin -- say Adobe Flash -- can now detect more than one finger on the screen. Snazzy. There also are improvements for when you're viewing a non-mobile site.

Camera and photo gallery

The camera app has been redesigned for larger screen sizes. You get quicker access to settings such as zoom, focus, flash, exposure, etc. Frankly, those are improvements that we should have in Android 2.2. Let's hope that gets ported over post haste.


A big change from Android 2.x to Honeycomb is the use of multiple panes on a single screen. Whereas you'd see a contact list, choose a contact and then have that contact fill the entire phone screen, it'll now do so on multiple panes. (Google's also called these "fragments.")


The stock e-mail app is getting quite the makeover. And we presume the gmail app (which you see here) gets it, too. Like contacts, it'll take advantage of the dual-pane UI. You'll also be able to select multiple messages and act on them, tell attachments to sync at a later time, or use an e-mail widget.

And -- this is our favorite -- you'll be able to drag and drop items, like you see in the image above. That's new in the Android 3.0 framework and can be used in various apps.

Other improvements

High-performance graphics

What's on the screen is just as important as the technology driving it. And in Android 3.0, the graphics get a major boost. Open GL hardware acceleration has arrived for 2D graphics. And for 3D graphics, there's a special renderscript that serves as an API for 3D scenes, as well as a universal shader language. That's nerdspeak for "It'll look good and be fast."

Multicore processor support

This is a big one, as dual-core processors have finally arrived. But, strangely enough, Android hasn't had true support for them until Honeycomb. And Google says that applications that are only written to take advantage of one core still can benefit from the change.

Bigger and better widgets

Widgets are getting bigger and better. You can flip through 3D stacks, have grids or lists. You can also interact with widgets in new ways, including scrolling and flipping the items within a widget.

Multimedia and connectivity

Nerdy, but important. There's new HTTP live streaming, meaning you can feed Android an M3U playlist URL and it'll know what to do with it. Most important, it means you'll possibly be able to watch Apple keynotes now. :p

There's also a new DRM -- digital rights management -- framework. That's the thing you hear about when the record labels and other publishers accuse you of stealing their work.

There also are new stereo Bluetooth profiles, so apps will be able to better interact with your accessories.

New enterprise support

This has been a big headache for a lot of you, we know. We'll just crip from Google here and tell you that "developers of device administration applications can support new types of policies, including policies for encrypted storage, password expiration, password history, and password complex characters required."

Older phones, and older apps

The good news: Android 3.0 is fully compatible with current Android applications. That's not to say you won't see updates for Honeycomb, but your favorite app should at least be functional even if the dev doesn't touch it.

But like we said at the outset: We'd be real surprised at this point if anything but the most recently announced smartphone gets updated to Honeycomb. In fact, we'd go so far to say that a dual-core developer phone might not be out of the question in the next six months. (Boy, we've got our fingers crossed for that.)

More's in store

So those are the broad strokes of Android 3.0. The APIs could still change. Features may be added or removed. We'll updated this post as necessary. But in the meantime, sit back, relax, and enjoy the preview Google gave us at the beginning of January.


Phil Nickinson
  • I'm not impressed it looks incomplete.
  • Maybe because it is? This is no where near final. Anyway hardware acceleration alone is already a big leap/feature.
  • I think that is the joy of android. They release software that is not overly done. Gives us the chance to make it how we like it. Nothing is ever perfect. IMO...I like it.
  • I don't think anything is ever complete. There is always better things to add on. That is Android. Always improving. Never finished always adding new features. That is what makes Android. That is why most people love Android, it is always being added onto
  • i can not wait!
  • same it looks amazing
  • After looking at this, I know what the "I" is in the version after Honeycomb: Ineedanewpairofpants
  • Couldn't have said it better!
  • Because you were so excited you shat in your pants? Or you need more room for the XOOM? haha
  • Great article, Phil.
  • #SoExcited
  • Ready for this to be released to AOSP to see how it can be merged into CM >:-)
  • Just tell me they have Cisco VPN, group authentication, working in 3.0? Sure I'm not alone in this ...
  • you know what...I just thought of something... I bet Honeycomb definitely does make it to phones and the Nexus S The Nexus S, when off, does now show its capacitive buttoms...only when its on.. I bet that is so when they put honeycomb on it with no buttons, the phone doesn't look stupid with the capacitive buttons showing but not doing anything.
  • One Word: AWESOME!
  • Not available for phones... I'm not interesting.
  • Whoever said you were?
  • Wow.....sound like a bunch of Apple FanBoys talking in here, can't find anything wrong with Android 3.0, its beautiful even though its incomplete. I think the term Apple FanBoys has expired and is now Google FanBoys. All they are doing is taking a mobile OS like Apple did and putting it on a tablet and copying like they did the iPhone. Thats alot to be proud of! Google is the new Microsoft.....they got alot of photocopiers running. lol
  • Apple copied Xerox, inform yourself before spewing regurgitated rhetoric please.
  • Sorry but I can view flash, make a call and load whatever I want on my Android phone. So you must be sadly mistaken. The day Android copies the crap that is IOS is the day I'm ditching it.
  • I know this comment is a couple days old, but I couldn't resist...
    Hallelujah! One of my favorite comments ever. The day Google copies iOS is the day my Droid gets thrown away! The tech industry is one big cesspool of copying and licensing. People just need to accept that two companies can come at the same problem and deliver similar results without either copying the other.
  • Cant wait, but honestly.... It probably wont be coming to my evo.. So.. until they announce a phone or a REASONABLY priced tablet (cause $800 for a Xoom just aint gonna happen), i am not getting too excited. LOVE the direction they are going though.. Just give me a google docs APP (not the web version) and make an x86 version and i could be done with WinBlows... well.. kinda.. lol
  • Don't get too excited then because all the good tablets are going to be priced at $500+ probably. You can get cheap junk for $100 or $200, but the run like it as well. Why do you need x86 version.....the market is moving to ARM processors now, Microsoft and Intel screwed up and may catch up in a couple of more years, but by that time it may be a little to late.
  • It looks very sleek and futuristic =].
  • It looks nice, but there is only one real thing that matters to me: Is there a place to enter a URL Proxy that will work on all apps accessing the internet when on a specific SSID? If that is not there, then this is useless to me at work. It also means that schools will continue to buy lots and lots of iPads because those WILL work on their wifi networks, whereas Android just sits and runs down its battery looking for an outlet to the net. If that is not there, it also means that the iPad2 will be the tablet I buy and not an Android one. Get the hint Google?
  • We have the same exact issue here at my school! Anyone who brings in a Android OS can't use our wireless because of a proxy. Think that would be a simple thing to put in.
  • Same here. In fact, a week or so ago, a teacher came to me all excited with his new Android e-reader. He wanted me to put the SSID and WEP code in so he could online. I had to give him the bad news...it will find the network, but it won't do more than that because Google left out a proxy entry place. What's worse, is trying to explain this to people who computer knowledge isn't familiar with things like proxies. All they want to know is why do people iPads work. Around here, the reply is usually, "Well, just root it and flash a third party ROM to your phone or tablet." My answer to that is, simply, NO! Why should anyone have to kill their warranty, not to mention risk bricking their phone or tablet because someone at Google was too damned stupid, ignorant, or lazy... or all three... to leave a place to enter a proxy url. Meanwhile, I still don't know if Honeycomb has corrected the problem yet.
  • By referencing a teacher assumes you're still in training. Learn about how poor WEP is, there's your bad news. Rather than state your lack of Honeycomb education about proxy inclusion, you should learn and find out. You're welcome.
  • I am a technology director at a K-12 district with over 4000 constituents. Who are the savages that are enacting URL proxy security measures in their WiFi infrastructure let alone WEP?
  • First, off after 26 years as a teacher, give me a break with the "training" sarcasm. Second, we're talking about the NYC Department of Education... to say things move glacially in this system is an understatement. I know full well that WEP is not the most secure system out there... that sort of stuff is decided centrally, not by individual schools.
  • Maybe it is Google trying to please the carriers. Since most of Android users are techies, without proxy, I am sure lots of them will not buy Android tablet. I just returned mine due to this.
  • Very cool preview. I would love to see the final build of honeycomb & Cisco/Skype video conferencing on all HTC tablets.
  • If it ever shows up as a software update for my EVO, I'll get excited. If not, I won't.
  • If it will run on the phone probably get it in 6 months if your lucky. Or if you want to jailbreak your phone, can get it that way. iOS would have had on release day without the jailbreak.
  • "Or if you want to jailbreak your phone, can get it that way."
    1) ...We don't jailbreak. We root. "iOS would have had on release day without the jailbreak."
    2) What the heck are you talking about?!
  • Ummm... Jailbreak = root I mean exactly what I said, well let me dummy it down a little. An iOS "update" you would have on release day. Wouldn't have to jailbreak it to make it work on your phone as it would work on mostly all iPhones and iPads, iPods, etc. Keyword there is "mostly" I am aware of iOS 4.2.1 not working on all iPhones and iPods. I waited months to get the release version of Android OS 2.2 on my Droid Incredible.
  • I'll say it again... we don't jailbreak. We root. And For that paragraph there you're officially an Apple troll. Have a good day.
  • i concur, jailbreak does NOT equal root. they may serve the same purpose, generally speaking, but they are not the same.
  • That's the difference--iDevices get the same update at the same time, while Androids get different updates based on the device, so they don't have, say, a 4x4 launcher on a 10" screen. Also, AOSP. The Incredible had FroYo before the Nexus One officially had it and Gingerbread by mid-December, and it will have Honeycomb by the time that AOSP 3.0 is released, probably in the middle of next month.
  • One thing that I really don't like for some reason are those button icons on the left side of the "system bar"! THEY ARE UGLY! It's almost like someone opened up PowerPoint, went to the insert shape button and chose from the flow chart icons.
  • Tablets are shared with other people much more than a cell phone would ever be, so I hope there is something like user accounts so that people can have different "profiles" with separate homescreens, Google accounts, etc. No word of anything like this, right? I can easily see a whole family sharing a tablet and taking turns, but would everyone have access to one person's email that way? Looks like Honeycomb has added a lot of desktop OS features anyway, like toolbars, taskbars, app switching, etc.
  • I love how they used the word fragments and incorporated it as part of their UI vernacular, brilliant.
    So they addressed the UI which everyone was screaming for, myself included, more polish. Now they need to get some of the building blocks done and make it Enterprise ready (WiFi shortcomings, centralized management and security come to mind). Another thing they need to look at is improving the OS updates, like it or not it's a reflection on Google even if there are handsets and carriers involved. Apple gets it done, Google should be able to as well.
  • I agree with the update issue, but that's both Android's blessing and curse. Apple can get it done because they have one device on one carrier. And they don't allow the carrier to modify the OS. Android, on the other hand, has multiple manufacturers who like to make their own customizations to the OS and then the carriers can make their changes on top of that. Then, to top it off, you get to pick from *dozens* of different phones, with different processor speeds, different amounts of RAM, different screen sizes and different prices. Those are the reasons that manufacturers/carriers/consumers love Android so much: choice. The downside is that Google has to make sure their OS works on lots of different hardware, whereas Apple only has to test on 2 or 3 different hardware. It's the price we pay for open awesomeness :) In all reality, Android really has a lot more capability than iOS, too, which means more code to develop and test for each version. And that's on top of the issues I already mentioned about all the different devices. Honeycomb's new widget support is *intended* to make it easier for the manufacturers/carriers to customize the device without having to add custom launchers and such. That will (hopefully) make releases of new versions of Android from the carriers to customers faster. Here's hoping!
  • This is going to be great. However, I do have one request.. One simple request.. With the Android 2.X apps, I'd like them to be in a small, sizable, movable window. This would be cool.
  • This looks pretty awesome. Can't wait to get my hands on it.
  • I am thinking that this would look and work great on my Google TV. And the mention of "larger screens" definitely piqued my interest. No way this is coming to my Droid X.
  • I think tablets deserve different version of android only because a tablet is used in a different way, it's more like a mobile computer than a smartphone. Maybe Google should come up with another H name for the next phone OS version so we can differentiate between them?
  • Great been running CM7 for a week and now Gingerbread is old :)
  • Old??? Really??? You sir, will never be satisfied. I am also running CM7 nightlys and I still smile when I see the screen off animation. I can't wait till CM7 gets the WiFi working 100%, other than that it is AWESOME.
  • I guess you missed the smiley face at the end of that comment. I too am flashing CM7 nightly and cannot wait for WIMAX to be added to the change log. I know I'm not much of a comedian :)
  • Please come to the mytouch 4g :D
  • Looks great!!! but won't compare to the elegant and superior OS of the Touchpad..So smooth even got RIM copying it.
  • You mean all EVOs arnt running gingerbread? Lol thanks cyanogen!
  • Apple who??
  • Now if we could get this for Google TV I would love it! At least most of it could be incorporated into it as far as the redesigning of the home page. It is very nicely done.
  • Is anyone hearing whether Moto will be licensing Swype for the XOOM keyboard? I had the beta on my OG Droid and It is standard on my DX.
  • When is the release date?
  • ..i don't think a release date has been mentioned yet.. we have to wait for the official gingerbread release first. my guess would be some time during the summer (may, june..)
  • Arrrrg! Thanks for the reply!
  • If you're rooted, the release date is somewhere around February 15, the same time as AOSP.
  • love the look and features...i want it on my rooted nook color...that would be cool..
  • Bold and unique, compared to Apple's simple and utilitarian. I like it a lot.
  • I hope Honeycomb lands on the Nook Color very soon. I love this 7" tablet.
  • I want to touch honeycomb!
  • I will buy any honeycomb device because it has the word honey in it, just like my favorite alcohol: Wild Turkey American honey!