Honeycomb is the 3.x version of the Android operating system, and the first official OS of Android-powered tablets. Many saw it as a significant jump in Android’s capabilities, while others felt it was a cobbled together platform, not yet ready for prime time.
Honeycomb was only available for tablets, and skipped over smartphones completely. Even custom ROMmers like those involved with the CyanogenMod project skipped right over Honeycomb, instead jumping into Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. (Part of this was because the source code for Honeycomb was released the same day as the Ice Cream Sandwich source.)
It’s my theory that Google, in response to Apple‘s popular iPad, felt pressured to release a version of the Android OS tuned for tablets — and had to scramble to put it together.
Manufacturers weren’t going to wait and were already releasing Gingerbread-based tablets with customized launchers to take advantage of the larger screens on tablets. Google had to act — fast — if they were going to keep the tablet environment under control. With the help of Motorola, Google released Honeycomb — specifically for tablets, warning that Honeycomb wasn’t a smartphone OS.
Honeycomb, unlike Gingerbread and previous Android versions, included hardware acceleration (though not turned on by default) to finally take advantage of the GPU that many devices were already coming with. Even still, Honeycomb was laggy, and many complained that it didn’t seem “finished” and lacked the “polish” that smartphone versions of Android had.
Comparisons to Windows Vista
Ask any computer user and you’ll probably hear nothing but animosity for Windows Vista. Windows XP before it, and Windows 7 after were seen as much more stable, faster, and more compatible than Vista was.
Windows Vista was a necessary evil. Microsoft was faced with problems on many fronts which required a significant retooling of their OS. The major issues were with security and hardware drivers. Software had to comply with new security requirements, and drivers for peripherals (like webcams and printers) had to be re-written for the new infrastructure.
Many manufactures opted for releasing new hardware with compatible drivers, rather than re-writing drivers for hardware that was already on the market. Users felt it was Vista’s problem, but in reality it was third party hardware and software vendors — but end-users didn’t know this, so they blamed Microsoft.
Windows 7 was built on top of the foundation that Vista (painfully) built. It’s smooth, it’s fast, and everything that worked on Vista, works on Windows 7. Microsoft had hit a wall with Windows XP and couldn’t push forward into future technologies without an interim OS: Windows Vista.
Android Honeycomb isn’t that much different.
With Honeycomb, Google split Android into a third piece: smartphone, TV, and now tablet. Apps had to be custom written for TV, but smartphones and tablets could (technically) run the same apps — just not very elegantly. Google needed time (and some might say they needed a test-bed of users) to work on a new version of their operating system that would unify the three platforms into one. Honeycomb was the fall guy.
Now that some time has passed, Google TV has been updated to run on Honeycomb — wait, what? Yes, now that Ice Cream Sandwich is out, Google TV runs on Honeycomb. This was undoubtedly a timing issue. Rather than waiting for ICS to be “ready”, Google moved forward with Honeycomb on TVs. That’s okay, it just means we’ll likely see an ICS update for Google TV before too long. Like Windows Vista and Windows 7, apps written for Ice Cream Sandwich run just fine on Honeycomb, so it’s not urgent to get ICS on Google TV — not for a while anyway.
Tablets and smartphones alike are starting to come out with (and be updated to) ICS. This is great news for app developers and, by extension, end users like you and I! Apps are getting polished and run more smoothly than ever before.
Android is growing up thanks — at least in part — to Honeycomb, even if it was a necessary evil.