Google this morning released the platform preview for the latest iteration of its venerable Android operating system, Android 3.0 Honeycomb. Among the more visible changes are a new "holographic" user interface (UI) theme and more robust support for larger-screen devices (such as tablets)
Underneath the facade, there are a number of enhancements to the system not immediately visible. Perhaps one of the most important inclusions that will affect all Android devices is the addition of a built-in GL rendering subsystem. Using this renderer will allow developers to create applications with accelerated 2D and 3D graphics. Previously, only 3D graphics were able to be accelerated. This should result in a much smoother UI.
Unfortunately, the Android emulator is not yet capable of passing these hardware acceleration requests through to the host operating system, so performance is still abysmally slow. Compared to the 2.3 release of Android's emulator, there has actually been a slowdown. Google says this is due to the WXGA screen resolution, which is higher than the previous emulator used. Contrast this performance with the Windows Phone 7 emulator, which fully supports passing acceleration through to the host operating system and runs quite smoothly - in some cases smoother than on WP7 hardware. This slow emulation speed is a common complaint among application developers.
Honeycomb also brings in multi-core processing support, and handles both single and dual-core configurations. Several subsystems in the OS have been multi-threaded to allow higher performance on multi-core systems. It remains to be seen if Google has implemented support for more than two cores; so far that is the maximum officially-supported configuration.
With the new UI update, developers will now have to create multiple UI themes for their applications to support the new extra-large screens. This may increase the time-to-market for some apps. It's hard to comment on the new animations, as the emulator runs too slowly to properly experience them. The broswer has received a significant UI update as well, allowing for a much improved "desktop-style" browsing experience.
The update also brings support for encrypted storage and password expiration, something enterprise users have been looking for in Android. This will make it a viable replacement for other devices that support these features in the corporate world.