Few people following tablets were surprised when HTC unveiled the HTC Flyer, a 7-inch tablet to compete with Apple's iPad, Samsung's Galaxy Tab lineup, and the Motorola Xoom at Mobile World Congress Feb. 15.
It's HTC's platform choice to power the device that has triggered head-scratching among some tech watchers. While tablets such as the Xoom and Galaxy Tab 10.1 will run Google's tablet-friendly Android 3.0 operating system, HTC said the Flyer will run a hybrid version of Android 2.4 and be powered by a 1.5 GHz processor.
HTC spokespeople declined to respond to eWEEK's request for comment on why Android 2.4 was picked over the logical Android 3.0 build.
HTC's choice is a bold one, considering Samsung was lambasted for putting Android 2.2 on its first Galaxy Tab. Android 3.0-which Google showed off on a Xoom first at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, in January, and then earlier this month at its headquarters-is tailored to optimize the Android experience on tablets.
Honeycomb, as Android 3.0 is nick-named, was rebuilt from the ground up for tablets, offering whiz-bang graphical elements and apps layered like stacked cards.
Honeycomb also facilitates 3D graphics for gaming, which is a popular tablet draw. The new Google Maps 5.0 for Android, with its 3D building rendering, is a sight to behold on the Xoom.
Slated to launch in the second quarter, the Flyer will also feature a 3D home screen with a carousel of widgets, thanks to a version of the smartphone maker's HTC Sense user interface tailored for tablets.
Users will able be able to access the tablet through touch gestures, as well as a stylus to leverage HTC's Scribe technology for note-taking. The device is also powered by a 1.5 GHz processor.
Independent industry analyst Jack Gold said that while the fact that the Flyer doesn't run Honeycomb might appear to be a step backwards, HTC's case is a little different.
"HTC supplements Android with its Sense UI anyway, so the underlying code is less critical than for those vendors who ship straight Android," Gold explained.
"And it's likely that HTC added a number of features/functions that make the experience better than straight Android, just like it does on its phones that run the Sense interface. So in this case, running Android 2.4 under the covers may not be that much of a handicap."
Even so, prospective Flyer buyers who have seen Honeycomb in action might expect HTC to offer an upgrade path for the device once its Sense interface is running on top of Honeycomb.
Of course, Honeycomb will likely appear on future HTC tablets. HTC's Peter Chou indicated at Mobile World Congress that the company could introduce tablets with larger form factors, leaving open the possibility that a larger HTC Honeycomb tablet is forthcoming later this year.
Meanwhile, Google has made little information about Android 2.4 public, though there is talk that this OS build will be released at Google I/O, in May.
ViewSonic said it is offering a ViewPad 4 smartphone based on Android 2.4 this spring. Company sources have said the chief difference between Android 2.3 and Android 2.4 is that Android 2.4 supports dual-core applications.