Google Delays Honeycomb Delivery to Open Source

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-03-26

Google Delays Honeycomb Delivery to Open Source

Google is roiling the open-source waters by declining to release its Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" operating system to independent developers so it can polish the code.

Google's usual modus operandi is to seed Android device makers with source code to build products, and then release the code to open source for developers to play with a few months later.

For example, Motorola Mobility and Samsung Electronics have already used Honeycomb for tablets. Motorola's Xoom has been on the market for a month. Samsung just showed off 9-inch and 10-inch Honeycomb slates at the CTIA Wireless show.

If Honeycomb followed the trend of Google's Android 2.x builds for smartphones, Google TV and other devices, it should have released the code around the timeframe the Xoom shipped Feb. 24.

Honeycomb, a special version of Android tailored for tablets and other devices with larger screen sizes, is a different animal. BusinessWeek reported Google will delay the release of Honeycomb to open source for several months because it requires more work before it can be ported to devices other than tablets.

Andy Rubin, Android creator and the vice-president for engineering at Google," told BusinessWeek:

"To make our schedule to ship the tablet, we made some design tradeoffs. "We didn't want to think about what it would take for the same software to run on phones. It would have required a lot of additional resources and extended our schedule beyond what we thought was reasonable. So we took a shortcut."

The user experience on smartphones and other devices, he added, could be poor, damaging the Android brand.

Why did Google need to rush Honeycomb to market? To get some skin in the game versus Apple's iPad. Google wanted to make sure Honeycomb was available on tablets before Apple launched its iPad 2 March 11. Apple's first iPad shipped 15 million units through 2010.

Google confirmed the move to eWEEK in an email March 24, noting that Honeycomb's widgets, multi-tasking, browsing, notifications and customization set it apart from the Android 2.x line created for smartphones and other machines.

"While we're excited to offer these new features to Android tablets, we have more work to do before we can deliver them to other device types including phones," the Google spokesperson said.

"Until then, we've decided not to release Honeycomb to open source. We're committed to providing Android as an open platform across many device types and will publish the source as soon as it's ready."

Google Delays Honeycomb Delivery to Open Source

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There's no reason to doubt Google will release Honeycomb to open source eventually, but the confirmation that the platform requires more work before it can be used for other devices fuels speculation that the OS was released too early from the jump.

Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdry criticized Honeycomb in a research note earlier this month for being buggy and feeling unfinished on Motorola Mobility's Xoom, the first tablet to carry Honeycomb.

Chowdry relied on anecdotes from early users for his report, which was widely blasted by users who found the OS locked up, froze or crashed on the Xooms they purchased.

eWEEK experienced no such flaws in its own extensive testing of the Xoom. However, eWEEK tested the Xoom before Flash was made available on it. Perhaps the bugs users encountered were related to trying to access Flash-supported content.

Delaying an OS build to get it right is certainly Google's prerogative, but it won't do anything to assuage critics who have long felt Google erred by letting the platform become so fragmented. The smartphone-oriented OS is split in a handful of versions and counting.  

The smartphone-flavored OS should see another build later this spring when Android 2.4, called either "Ice Cream" or "Ice Cream Sandwich," arrives to the market.

This is allegedly a hybridized version of the OS that will incorporate some of the features of Honeycomb, according to Google Android Engineering Director Dave Burke.

Burke said Ice Cream would likely bring Honeycomb's "action bar," which provides contextual buttons to act on whatever is on the screen at the moment, to phones. The action bar is geared to supplant the "press and hold" gesture, which will be phased out, except for drag-and-drop operations.

Also, the new, graphical "Hologram" style of Honeycomb will come to phones, as will the multi-tasking application switcher that shows a small view of each application running, Burke said.

Expect Ice Cream, or Ice Cream Sandwich, to ship at or around the timeframe of Google's I/O show in May.



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