Google Releases Android 3.0 Preview SDK

Google has released the Android 3.0 Preview SDK, giving developers early access to the tools they need to develop applications for Android 3.0. Along with the SDK, Google has published a Platform Highlights document that outlines the features users will see in this version of Android. If you are interested in learning more about Android 3.0, this document is worth taking the time to read.

It should be very clear to anyone who reads the document that Android 3.0 is designed for tablets. In fact, after reading it I have an even stronger feeling Google is forking Android into tablet and smartphone versions. Both versions will likely be built on the same kernel but have different UIs that are optimized for the target platform. Note that there are no references in the platform highlights to smartphones, nor do you see any smartphone screen shots.

The reason why I am reaching this conclusion is that I don’t think the UI in Android 3.0 will work well on smaller screens. The system bar, which is where you see notifications and other system information, is at the bottom of the screen on Android 3.0, while it’s at the of the screen in Android 2.3, and I think having the system bar at the top makes sense for smartphones.

At the top of the screen in Android 3.0 is an action bar, which is where you will find applicaton-specific options. Android 2.3 does not have an action bar, instead it has the menu button. Again, I think the menu button makes sense for one-handed operation on a smartphone, but you aren’t going to operate a tablet with one hand.

Android 3.0 will include 3D-like visual clues for navigation, all of which is designed to take advantage of the larger screen size of tablets. Another way Android 3.0 is optimized for tablets is with the keyboard, which has a larger key layout and includes a Tab button, all designed for the possibility of touch typing.

If Google produces different UIs for smartphones and tablets, it will be in stark contrast to what Apple has done with iOS. The UI on the iPad is pretty much exactly the same as the UI on the iPhone and iPod Touch. Google has developed a UI specifically for tablets whereas Apple re-used the iPhone UI to develop the iPad, although there are some slight optimizations for larger screens. The two UIs will be noticably different, but what remains to be seen is whether what Google has produced will translate to a better user experience.