The new Android Honeycomb 3.0 SDK (and associated software) is going to help developers a lot, although it will not completely solve the fragmentation issue, according to developers working with the new OS kit.
“Honeycomb is amazing, it does a lot for developers, but it will be a while before we see Honeycomb apps because the emulator is slow and there aren’t any developer tablets to test on yet,” said Java developer Andrew May, founder and owner of ADM Software, which is creating “Thingstr,” a Twitter application for the Android platform.
Google updated the SDK yesterday to include the Fragment Framework, and developers now can access the additional features (including a new LoaderManager and other classes), as Google blogged.
The update contained Framework APIs to prepare applications from 1.6 and up for tablets, and to be compatible with phones running a wide variety of OS versions, Google said. This static library should assist with the problem of fragmentation in the Android developer community, according to May.
“Android is popular because of the broad variety of phones, but all aren’t upgradeable to the new SDK yet. Different phones support different software, and Honeycomb is trying to address this issue,” May said. “The activity groups will be bridged together.”
Activity groups, he explained, are the interactions between applications on the Android OS. All applications have different activities layered on them (such as selecting a meeting time and inviting people within a calendar application), and these sometimes cause the hardware to slow down or launch the wrong application, he said. By grouping these together, Google hopes to help developers make the UI look cleaner.
Manfred Moser, owner and founder of simpligility, and an Android developer for the last year and a half, said that he doesn’t think dedicated phones will be created with Honeycomb support. “Ice Cream,” the reported name of the next iteration, is supposed to bring both sets of devices—tablets and phones—together and allow for easier implementation of applications across devices.
“The OS has come leaps and bounds from the early days; the APIs are very evolved and very useful,” Moser said. He added that he was pleasantly surprised by a network access exception on the main thread. This was necessary because developers often take a shortcut in coding “to allow an application to access the network in the same thread as the one that’s responsible for the UI,” which can hang up the application, he said.
This, Moser said, is improper and lazy coding. The exception is a safety catch that breaks the code in a way that the developer will notice and be able to fix it before publishing his or her application. Google’s efforts are to create higher-quality coded applications for the platform, so they’ve provided mechanisms, including this exception, to make that easier, he said.
Moser said his plan is to wait to build dedicated applications for the tablet as his existing applications work in the Honeycomb emulator.
Aditya Bansod, senior director of product management at Sencha, a development company that makes tools and frameworks for HTML5, said that scalable vector graphics (SVG) and CSS transforms are now supported by the Honeycomb release.
“We’re very happy that Android supports SVG because it makes drawing vector graphics easier,” he said.
According to Google’s blog on the Honeycomb release, the SDK also includes a new UI specifically designed for tablets, with a system bar, action bar, customizable home screen, keyboard, copy and paste capability, and an updated set of standard applications. There are also new tools for building 2D and 3D graphics on the Honeycomb OS.
Honeycomb also includes provisions for large organizations with “support [for] new types of policies, including policies for encrypted storage, password expiration, password history, and password complex characters required,” according to its website.
May said small- to medium-sized development shops will most likely not tackle the Honeycomb OS release, mainly because there aren’t many tablet and phone devices that support the Honeycomb upgrade available, and those that are available, like the Motorola Xoom, have a “high price point.”
“We won’t see many apps specifically developed for Honeycomb; many are waiting for Ice Cream, the next iteration, which is probably about six months out,” May said.
Ice Cream is supposed to merge the differences between tablets and smartphones, and assist developers in designing applications for both. Google and Motorola have invited large companies, like CNN, May said, to create applications specifically for the tablet in an effort to compete with the iPad.
Bansod recently reviewed the Motorola Xoom tablet and said that while the applications “look great,” the browser in the Honeycomb OS kit is disappointing. The browser (it is not identified as Chrome, he said) hasn’t made the same improvement as the applications have in this latest release.
“We tend to see Chrome as a leader in innovation on the desktop, but don’t see that in the Android browser. Honeycomb is not ready for HTML5 development,” he said, adding that it will need patches from Google and Motorola (for Xoom) to work properly.
Applications created for earlier versions of the OS will scale to work with the Honeycomb 3.0 release, May explained, so developers will not need to recreate applications.