Google executives on Wednesday showed the latest weapon in their battle for the mobile Internet. The Honeycomb operating system, or Android 3.0, is the first optimized to power tablet computers instead of smartphones.
The company also showed off its new Android Market web site with a "seamless path to purchasing" that makes it easier to find, buy and keep track of applications purchased for multiple devices.
Also on display was new content from partners Disney Mobile, CNN and War Drum Studios.
The Android Market has more than 100,000 apps, which can now be purchased online and sent wirelessly to Android devices.
"No wires, no synching with the computer, none of that nonsense," said Google's engineering director, Chris Yerga.
Honeycomb will also offer better opportunities for developers to monetize their apps and to convert payments made in foreign currency. Increased support for in-app purchasing will allow developers to sell higher levels, virtual goods, or currency to be used in games.
"Our approach has been to equip developers with the best possible toolkit, and then get out of their way," said Google's product group manager, Hugo Barra.
The event was held Wednesday morning at Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters for members of the technology media. It was webcast live via YouTube, which is owned by Google.
Waiting for Lady Killer
Google Vice President and Android point man Andy Rubin and Barra demonstrated Honeycomb's upgraded user interface with easier multi-touch, better notifications, and improved graphics that use its Renderscript technology to create 3-D effects, even on programs that weren't initially designed for them. The technology allows pages of e-books to be realistically turned and for Google Body to show detailed images of human anatomy.
The system was demonstrated on a Motorola Xoom, the first tablet that will ship with Android 3.0, although an exact release date, expected within the next month, was not announced.
Rubin and Barra also showed a Google Talk video chat with improved stabilization, with Barra awkwardly waiting throughout the demonstration for a connection with someone whose user name is Lady Killer. At the end of the conference it turned out to be hip-hop star Cee-Lo Green.
Despite the poor scheduling coordination, the video-chat app seemed to perform flawlessly.
Google also demonstrated two games optimized for Honeycomb, developed by War Drum Studios, Monster Madness and Great Battles. The latter was created with cooperation from the History Channel.
CNN Vice President Louis Gump and Participation Director Lila King demonstrated a new iReport app to make it easier for people to quickly upload images of breaking news events. "As more people are using tablets, we want to be there for them," Gump said.
Bart Decrem, senior vice president and general manager of Disney Mobile, announced that three popular apps from the entertainment giant are coming to Android this spring. Radio Disney allows kids and tweens to "talk back" to the pop station with shout-outs and song requests. Jelly Car is a "physics" tap-and-pinch driving game, and Tap Tap Revenge is a game similar to Nintendo's Guitar Hero that requires players to tap a stream of buttons as pop songs play.
Devices powered by Honeycomb will likely hit the market around the same time as Apple's refresh of the iPad, setting off a second round in the tablet war that Apple has so far easily dominated.
"The tablet market looks promising from a top-line forecast in 2011," said mobile-devices analyst Jeff Orr of ABI Research. "My concern is how the feature set will shake out this year -- so many new vendors and products that will likely compete on price and features. This, in turn, will hurt the average selling price and the value-add features, including GPS, 3G/4G connectivity, and ruggedization. All of these cost money and will be cut in favor of a 'race to the bottom' cost."