Android 3.1, Ice Cream Sandwich Take Center Stage at Google I/O

Google's Android 3.1 "Honeycomb" build will begin rolling out May 10, according to company officials here at Google I/O. Officials also described Ice Cream Sandwich, which borrows features from Honeycomb.

SAN FRANCISCO-Google May 10 introduced a new version of Android 3.1 "Honeycomb," an incremental upgrade of its tablet-optimized operating system, at its Google I/O developers' conference here.

The upgrade, rolling out today to owners of the Motorola Xoom on Verizon's 3G network, improves upon Honeycomb's intensive customization capabilities with homescreen widgets that developers can create to resize horizontally, vertically or both.

Honeycomb 3.1 features a couple new APIs, including the USB host API and Open Accessory API.

For Honeycomb devices that support USB host mode, applications can now manage USB peripherals such as audio devices, input devices and other communications devices, such as VOIP headsets. Honeycomb 3.1 will also support mice, trackballs, joysticks, gamepads and others.

With a mind to expand Android's purview beyond smartphones, tablets and TVs, the Open Accessory API allows Android applications to integrate and work with musical equipment, exercise equipment and robotics systems.

Honeycomb 3.1 will also support the forthcoming Google TV upgrade later this year.

Android engineer Mike Cleron said Sony, Samsung, Logitech and Vizio are building new Google TV products this year.

Google's Android team backported this API to Android 2.3.4 as an optional library, with the Samsung Nexus S as the first device to support this feature. The 2.3.4 version of the Open Accessory API is available in the new Google APIs add-on for developers.

Meanwhile, Cleron said Google's next Android smartphone platform, code-named Ice Cream Sandwich, will include Honeycomb features. This will include the holographic user interface, jazzier multitasking, the new launcher and richer widgets.

Google's goal here is to curb some of the fragmentation the company introduced when it rolled out Honeycomb as a break from its Android 2.x smartphone builds.

Further along this defragmentation front, Google also said that several carriers and phone makers will create guidelines for how quickly devices are updated after a new platform release, and for how long they will continue to be updated.

This means participating partners will receive the latest Android platform upgrades for 18 months after the device is first released, provided the hardware can support the OS builds.

Participants in this as-yet-unnamed group include Verizon, HTC, Samsung, Sprint, Sony Ericsson, LG, T-Mobile, Vodafone, Motorola and AT&T, though Google said participation is open.

Google also trotted out some meaty Android stats.

Hugo Barra, vice president of Android product management, said the platform has seen 100 million activated Android devices, with 400,000 new Android devices activated each day.

There are also now 200,000 free and paid applications available in Android Market, with users installing 4.5 billion apps.