updated 11:10 pm EST, Mon December 6, 2010
Rubin shows early Motorola MotoPad and 3D Maps
(Update: video, new photos, new details) Google VP Andy Rubin as part of his talk at D: Dive Into Mobile tonight showed off a prototype of Motorola's MotoPad. He used the likely seven-inch device to show off an upcoming version of Google Maps and confirmed some of the suspected details, including the use of a dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor and a front-facing camera for video chat. It would use Honeycomb (Android 3.0), which will have tablet optimizations such as splitting the display into multiple views.
Its interface will borrow cues from the iPad, such as an e-mail viewer that will show the message list on the left in landscape mode and zoom the message in portrait mode. Honeycomb tablets won't need hardware front buttons, Rubin said, as the usual three or four buttons will be onscreen and adapt their position to the way the tablet is being held. There is no 'wrong' way to hold it, Rubin explained, mirroring Apple's approach.
The tablet is widely expected to launch at Motorola's CES keynote on the evening of January 5 and may be a halo device for Verizon. If accurate, earlier details would have it ship with 3G at first but upgrade to use Verizon's LTE-based 4G network later on.
Rubin was a fan of the tablet concept, as it was "fundamentally changing the model" of how users interact with computers. It's more physical and involves "feel," he said. They were still in-between devices, so the uses weren't as clear, but they could work well on the couch where their size might not work as well on the subway.
He didn't weigh heavily on the interface experience, but he noted that a good tablet interface would be a "reflex" where learning once would make it intuitive anywhere. He didn't touch on Apple CEO Steve Jobs' criticisms of small tablets.
Google Maps itself is now expected to get the same 3D support as the web version uses for certain cities, rendering buildings and other basic details at a certain zoom level. Once close, users will have the option of spinning and rotating the view at this level with multi-touch gestures to get a sense of the area. The extra depth will work with both phones and tablets.
The app should run faster as well as it will change the way it addresses maps; instead of tiles, it uses a vectorized system that only needs a handful of data to determine how to render the next part of the map. Maps should load about 100 times faster due to the reduced overhead, and it would now be possible to cache a "whole state" without having to turn to the cellular network, Rubin explained.
While going ahead in this area, it would also catch up to Apple's compass support from 2009, optionally turning the map to face the same direction as the user.
The new version of Google Maps should reach Android devices in the next few days, although he didn't say which OS editions would support the updates. Apple isn't guaranteed to get 3D support as its Maps app is self-written and often excludes certain features.