updated 03:25 pm EST, Wed January 26, 2011
Android 3.0 preview SDK posted, hints new features
Google gave developers their first direct sample of Honeycomb by posting the Android 3.0 preview SDK with hints it was tackling major Android issues. The tablet-optimized OS now has an extendable DRM framework that addresses complaints of fragmented Android DRM. Netflix and other companies can now copy protect music, videos and other content without having to rewrite code for different phones.
The release is also a rare instance of Google relying on a mostly Apple-sourced technology outside of WebKit to power its mobile platform. The 3.0 release will support a basic form of HTTP Live Streaming to provide improved web media through HTML5. Google's implementation will so far only support the M3U playlists normally reserved for MP3 audio streams and not necessarily video. Android will support the spec's adaptive bitrate technology, which isn't available in basic HTML5 video.
Google is aiming for a more iPad-style sync approach and will support both MTP and PTP for USB transfers. The addition will raise the possibility of developing an iTunes-style app that, instead of simply scanning files, can more intelligently exchange data.
Other new additions bring the known but now fully 2D and 3D hardware accelerated "holographic" interface, multi-core processor support, and new Bluetooth streaming support that can pipe audio to devices that don't have an interface for pairing. Business users now get encrypted storage, a feature previously seen on iOS and BlackBerry, as well as the option of expiring passwords.
The interface has already been shown at CES and is almost entirely touch-driven, with hardware buttons no longer needed for basic navigation. It makes use of the larger screen area with full-screen apps, more advanced widgets and thumbnail-based app switching. Video chat is equally new and taps into Gmail's existing audio and video support.
Google in posting the SDK noted that earlier Android apps will be backwards compatible and that they only need a minimal amount of change to fit into the new interface language. A single attribute change in a manifest will make it appear like more of a 3.0-native app, Google said.
The timing of the preview raises questions surrounding the timing of the Motorola Xoom, the first Android 3.0 tablet. Google has promised a finished version of the OS and SDK in the "weeks ahead," but the Xoom could ship as soon as February 17, leaving Google with just three weeks to polish the OS. The date isn't official and could slip, but an on-time release could be comparatively rushed.