Will Android Honeycomb Unify Tablets, TVs, and Phones?


One of the fun parts of this job is speculating about what the future might hold. As with any predictions into the future, the following may not ever come to pass. I’m not under any non-disclosure agreements with Google, and I don’t have any insider information from them either. That having been said, I decided string together a few rumors, events, and announcements, then make some fairly radical extrapolations.

Rumors are beginning to circulate that the next version of Android, codenamed “Honeycomb”, will be released sometime around March 2011. We have also been led to believe that one of the main objectives behind Honeycomb will be enabling Android on larger-screen devices — specifically tablets. We’re not a tablet website, so how does this apply to pocketnow.com readers? Let’s keep digging.

Google recently announced, and Logitech recently released Google TV. For those that don’t know, Google TV is basically an internet connected set-top box, running on Android, powered by Google Search, that lets you find and watch TV and do other Internet based stuff like web surfing. Again, this isn’t directly applicable to pocketnow.com readers.

We also know that Google has not only pulled their Google TV goodies from CES, they’ve also asked their partners not to show anything related to Google TV at the show. Some have said this is because of the lack-luster adoption of Google TV, others say they’ve got something in the works with the networks that have blocked Google TV from being able to play shows they’ve made available on their websites — but the contracts haven’t been inked yet. Once again, this isn’t applicable to pocketnow.com readers.

One of the drawbacks of Google TV is the absence of the Android Market: you can’t install any third-party apps. Google has said that’s coming, but we haven’t been told when. This got me thinking: isn’t Google TV basically just an Android app? If so, why can’t it be made to run on a tablet? And why stop there, why couldn’t it run on an Android-powered phone? But what could this have to do with the Google TV blackout at CES?

Here’s where the extrapolation and deduction comes in to play — and what makes this story applicable to pocketnow.com readers.

We learned at Google I/O that Honeycomb will introduce a metaphor called “fragments”, which will allow a developer to break their apps up into elements that are interpreted differently, and displayed in a manner more appropriate for the medium on which they are displayed. Gmail, for example, could show unread messages in a “fragment” on the left side of the screen, and the email being read in another fragment on the right when viewed on a tablet, while displaying the same information in a paged view on a phone — and do so without requiring a separate app for each formfactor. This was all said in the context of tablets, but “other screen sizes” were mentioned — inferring Google TV.

Since Honeycomb will support apps written to take advantage of the new “fragments” metaphor, and this new approach will allow apps to be run on devices with different sized screens, why not unify the three different platforms (phone, tablet, and TV) with the Honeycomb version of the Android OS, making apps natively cross-platform? Take that a step further: why not make the platforms able to run on the various devices, making the OS cross-platform as well?

Essentially, there would be one OS and one set of apps, with three different ways to view the content. This would simplify application creation for developers, as well as reducing development time for Google. Additionally, it opens the possibility of plugging your Android into your TV via Composite video (ala the Microsoft Zune), HDMI, or possibly wirelessly via DLNA, and would essentially provide a Google TV experience powered by your Android phone.

Looking at it from a different angle, this could also allow the features of Google TV on your Android phone — albeit in a different view, thanks to the “fragments” metaphor.

So, is Google halting announcements because Google TV has failed? Or do they simply need a little more time to finish Honeycomb and make Google TV available on every Android-powered device? That could be game changing: every Android is a TV, and every TV can be an Android.

Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy". By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video. Read more about Joe Levi here.