Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has made no attempt to hush talk of "Ice Cream Sandwich," the next build of Android that promises to unify elements of the Android 2.x smartphone branch and Android 3.x "Honeycomb" branch of the platform for tablets.
The Android development team paved the way for developers Sept. 19 by warning them about what to expect from the build and how to treat their existing applications going forward. However, Google stopped short of releasing the much-anticipated Ice Cream Sandwich software developer kit to enable developers to begin writing applications.
"Although Honeycomb remains tablets-only, the upcoming Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) release will support big screens, small screens, and everything in between," wrote Scott Main, lead technical writer for Android. "This is the way Android will stay from now on: the same version runs on all screen sizes."
Main cautioned that while it is true that some Honeycomb applications were designed to run solely on a large screen, this will become false with the arrival of ICS because Android applications are forward-compatible. That is, an application developed for Honeycomb is compatible with a device running ICS, which could be a tablet, a phone or perhaps Android-powered TVs.
Main warned developers who have written Honeycomb applications to either prevent installation on smaller screens or support smaller screens with the same developer kit. Main then provided instructions for how developers might prevent their applications from being used on phones, whose screens tend to be 3 to 5 inches.
However, developers who want their Honeycomb applications to run on any size device should update their program to run on smaller screens using a single Android application package file (APK).
"Optimizing for handsets can be tricky if your designs currently use all of a large screen to deliver content," Main noted. "It's worth the effort, though, because Ice Cream Sandwich brings the Honeycomb APIs to handsets, and you'll significantly increase the user-base for your application. Using a single APK for all devices also simplifies your updating and publishing process and makes it easier for users to identify your app."
To enable Honeycomb tablet applications to run smoothly on handsets, he advised programmers to build their application around Android "fragments," code chunks developers can reuse in different combinations. Think in terms of creating single-pane layouts on handsets and multi-pane layouts on tablets.
Main noted that developers won't be able to test their layouts for smaller screens without a handset running Honeycomb.
But the SDK is coming in October, so it won't be long before developers can get their hands on the software package. Accordingly, he warned Android developers not to publish their changes until they can test them on a device or emulator running ICS.
In the meantime, Main offered a compromise. Developers can test their alternative layouts by using the "land" qualifier for tablets.
The first ICS device is expected to be the Samsung Droid Prime (or Nexus Prime) on Verizon Wireless, slated for a November launch to entice holiday shoppers.
However, neither Google, Samsung nor Verizon will confirm this rumor. The Prime is expected to be Verizon's alternative to offering the Samsung Galaxy S II handset.