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Dubbed "Honeycomb" by Google, the new platform will be the first edition that will support applications and programs designed specifically for the large touchscreens of tablet computers. Although tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab have run on older versions of Android, Google has said that tablets based on non-Honeycomb editions of Android will not properly run applications downloaded from the Android App Market.
So we know that Honeycomb is tablet-centric. But what does that entail? Here are five key features that will make Honeycomb an upgrade for tablet users in the near future:
* Tabs, not windows
On smartphones, Android's browser lets you open several websites at once in different "windows" that you can switch through by clicking on a button and accessing the windows screen. This makes sense for smartphones, since having traditional browser tabs would clog up the devices' limited screen size.
But for tablets, the "windows" feature could quickly become a royal pain. This is why Honeycomb's browser will support browser tabs, meaning your browsing experience on Android tablets will now be more like the browsing experience on your desktop computer and less like the browsing experience on your smartphone.
* Easier Gmail with two columns and "Action Bar"
Unlike smartphone-based Android versions of Gmail that simply presents messages in a long single column, the Honeycomb version will be divided into two columns that will let you more easily navigate and manage messages. So instead of having to click over for a separate window to look at sent or deleted messages, you'll be able to click on their folders on the left-hand column.
But that's not all! Google is also promoting the exciting-sounding "Action Bar" as a key feature of Honeycomb Gmail. Per Google, the Action Bar is "always present when an application is in use, although its content, theme, and other properties are managed by the application rather than the system." In the case of Gmail, the Action Bar will be used primarily to move messages from folder to folder.
* Support for 3D graphics
Andy Rubin first demonstrated Honeycomb's new 3D graphics capabilities late last year by showing how a prototype Motorola Android tablet could now support a 3D version of Google Maps that featured 3D renderings of houses and buildings. Google has now given us more details about its tablet-centric 3D graphics engine, dubbed Renderscript, which it describes as "an ideal way to create high-performance 3D effects for applications, wallpapers, carousels and more." According to Google, Renderscript is both an API for 3D graphics that also provides a "platform-independent shader language" that will help developers achieve more realistic shading and textures in their 3D work.