Google launches Android 3.0 'Honeycomb' preview

Google has given developers their first proper look at Android 3.0 'Honeycomb,' releasing a platform preview software development kit for coders to poke at.

Xavier Ducrohet, technical lead on the Android SDK team, warns that the SDK features 'non-final APIs' and may be subject to change by the time Honeycomb ships in April. However, this release offers those not on Google's list of bosom buddies their first chance to see what the much-vaunted tablet-oriented build of Android has to offer.

While some developers, such as those working on Motorola's upcoming Xoom tablet, have had early access to Android 3.0, most developers have had to make do with Android 2.3 'Gingerbread.' Sadly, that version is designed for smartphones - meaning those developing software for the next generation of Android tablets have been left out in the cold.

The new SDK offers developers a chance to test their applications and packages on Honeycomb ahead of release - and gives the rest of us our first official glimpse at the changes Google's latest build of Android brings.

As well as the 'holographic' 3D interface, which Google hopes will make large-screen devices more pleasurable to use, the new SDK brings support for a new high-performance 3D graphics engine called 'Renderscript' and hardware acceleration of 2D drawing tasks.

Better multi-threading support has also been added, allowing developers to take advantage of the dual-core processors that are starting to appear in many tablets and high-end smartphones, including Nvidia's popular Tegra 2 platform.

The multimedia functionality has been given an overhaul, too, with support for HTTP Live streaming media, a pluggable framework for digital rights management, and support for transferring media files over MTP/PTP. The addition of APIs for Bluetooth headsets based on A2DP and HSP make the development of third-party media playback software easier as well.

As with many companies producing tablets and associated software, Google is aiming for the lucrative enterprise market as well as the home user sector - and Honeycomb brings new enterprise features including enforceable policies for password expiration and storage encryption.

While the SDK is subject to change between now and April, the platform preview is likely to be a fairly good indication of what Honeycomb will be come launch - and first impressions are good.

More information, plus instructions for upgrading to the new SDK, is available on the Android SDK Preview site.