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The Highlights from Google’s Live Android Event

At 10am PST yesterday, Google held a live event to showcase the newest developments on the Android platform. Naturally, this time around the focus was on Android 3.0 Honeycomb and its implementation in tablet devices. Discussed were breakthroughs not just for the user experience, but for the developer experience too. We thought we’d share some of the highlights of the main event in case you missed the live stream.

For the user

Home screens, widgets and notifications

Google were eager to show off the advanced and extremely smooth user interface of Honeycomb, the latest version of Android, which is designed exclusively for tablets as opposed to cell phones. All of the developers had a Motorola Xoom (the flagship Honeycomb device) on hand to show off their latest creations.

The responsiveness and fluidity of the operating system alone were something to marvel at. Google Mobile’s Product Management Director, Hugo Barra, was eager to show off the varied widgets on the home screen, all of which looked well-polished and easy to use. Also demonstrated was Honeycomb’s updated notifications system – as the OS is designed for devices with larger screens, notifications have been resculpted to provide more information while still not being too intrusive.

First and third party apps

Next on the list were first and third party applications for Honeycomb. Google showed off the latest version of Maps, whose multi-touch features worked particularly well with the Xoom tablet, and Body, described as ‘the Google Maps for the human body’. The neat app showed off the general snappiness of the device, which could render the intricacies of the skeletal system without breaking a sweat.

Third party contributions included several games: Google demonstrated how existing, popular applications such as Fruit Ninja can be migrated to tablets extremely easily, provided that the developer follows Google’s guidelines. Monster Madness, originally a PlayStation 3 title, was shown to be successfully ported with almost all of the code intact. Great Battles, an educational title, was announced as the first application created by developer War Drum Studios to make full use of the Xoom’s dual-core Tegra CPU. CNN displayed a video-centric news app designed specifically for Honeycomb which also allowed users to upload their own news.

General UI changes

Moving back to Google’s own apps, some interesting UI tweaks were displayed including ‘application fragments’ (yeah, we know, don’t say the ‘f’ word): the two panes of the Gmail client which Google have already demonstrated were shown to be separate from each other, allowing the user quickly flick back and forth between panes when necessary. Another interesting cosmetic change was the complete overhaul of the native camera application, with the controls now being much more in keeping with the circular graphics already seen on the Honeycomb home screen.

Video calling

A key pulling factor of modern tablets, the capability of video chat, was the final first party implementation to be displayed – although that was obviously not how Google intended on having things play out. A lead-up announcement to the revelation of video calling was let down by the non-appearance of the ‘mystery’ call recipient known as ‘Lady Killer’. However, the team were pleased to later be able to prove the Xoom’s video calling function once Cee-Lo Green’s broad smile finally popped up on the Xoom’s display. Both audio and video quality seemed mediocre, but let’s not forget that it’s still early days for Honeycomb.


For the developer

Graphics

Besides multi-tasking, Google’s main focus with making the most of this new hardware is in the field of displaying games and applications as effectively as possible. For starters, they have promised that developers will be able to implement two-dimensional hardware accelerations into their apps ‘using just one line of code’. Another shown-off addition was Renderscript, a sleek 3D graphics engine which is new to Honeycomb and was shown off in the earlier applications and games, along with the native YouTube  and Music applications.

Android Market Web Store

This is perhaps the most interesting of all of the updates Google have made to the Android experience. An oft-requested feature has always been the ability to browse through and download applications using a desktop browser. Today, Google demonstrated that such things are now possible though the Android Market Web Store. Once purchased or downloaded, the user selects a device to which the app or game will be transferred, and it magically starts downloading on the phone or tablet à la Google’s Chrome to Phone application. Use of the Web Store also makes sharing applications with fellow Android users much easier. Google hope that the implementation of this new way to find and recommend apps will aid developers and their recently feeble paid app popularity statistics.

Support for in-app purchases

Alongside the announcement of new currency and seller support for the Android Market, Google were eager to unveil the latest tool for prospective app-made millionaires: an SDK which allows for in-app purchases. Today saw the release of the developer documentation and sample code for developers who are interested in making such concepts as in-game money and premium versions of applications, unlockable through the trial application itself, a reality. Disney Mobile were present to announce the arrival of popular apps such as Jelly Car and Radio Disney on the Android platform, but the real reason Google had invited them was to demonstrate the potential for the in-app purchase system through Tap Tap Revenge 4. The latest version of the app, which has already been download over 50 million times on other platforms, supports the shopping of music tracks without having to leave its interface. Disney Mobile claimed to have implemented support for the service less than a week after Google released the code to them – making it seem a very easy procedure. Google have promised developers the in-app purchase software development kit by the end of this quarter.

Well, that’s about it for today’s Android event. Right at the end, Google hinted at something interesting in store for Mobile World Congress visitors, with more than 50 separate developers of Honeycomb-tailored apps set up to show you what’s new. Stay tuned and we’ll do our best to fill you in when the time comes.

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