Google shows off Honeycomb, Web-based app store (live blog)
Google plans to host an event Wednesday to show off its Android Honeycomb software, designed specifically for tablets. We'll have live coverage here.
Editor's note: We used Cover It Live for this event, so if you missed the live blog, you can still replay it in the embedded component below. Replaying the event will give you all the live updates along with commentary from our readers and CNET editors Donald Bell and Tom Krazit. For those of you who just want the updates, we've included them in regular text here.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--We've already seen quite a bit of Google's Android Honeycomb operating system release for tablets, but Google's ready to show it off in more detail.
The tech press descends on the Googleplex this morning for an Android event at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., and CNET is the place to be for live coverage. The event is scheduled to kick off at 10 a.m. PT, and Google has promised to discuss "Android ecosystem news" in addition to its first version of Android designed specifically for tablet devices. Donald Bell will be riding shotgun and providing commentary on Google's news and products.
Follow along with our live updates from the event in the Cover It Live module. Google will have a live stream of the event here. You can also watch a special live episode of Buzz Out Loud while the event unfolds in our video stream below.
Transcript of live blog starts here:
9:53 a.m. (from Jessica Dolcourt): Hi everyone, we're waiting for things to get under way at the Googleplex. Tom Krazit and Donald Bell are getting settled in before the show kicks off.
9:55 a.m. (from reader Chase): Is there live video coverage?
(From Jessica Dolcourt): @Chase, Google is streaming the proceedings live here. But nothing's playing just yet.
9:57 a.m. (from Donald Bell): Hey folks. We're here. Wi-Fi: check. Power outlets: check.
The royal treatment.
9:58 a.m. (from Donald Bell): A loop of the Honeycomb video from CES is playing on the screen.
9:59 a.m.: Hi all.
10:00 a.m.: We're back in the Tunis conference room at Building 43 in Mountain View, the same room Google used to launch the Nexus One. We got the 5-minute warning about 2 minutes ago, so stay tuned.
10:02 a.m.: Andy Rubin, leader of the Android team, is stepping up on stage to welcome us all. "We're really excited to present Honeycomb and some new features of Android."
10:03 a.m.: They're going to demo the Motorola Xoom tablet, and also going to discuss some "future features and functionality of Android Market."
10:04 a.m.: Rubin considers Google the "shepherd" of Android, and he's been very excited to see what people have done with Android. We're going to see how "Google's cloud services tie together all these applications" during the demos later. "It's the cloud that makes the experience seamless."
10:04 a.m. (from Donald Bell): Google needs to herd their Android sheep a little better, methinks. Lots of crummy Android tablets out there.
10:05 a.m.: Phones, tablets, and Google TV will also have services in the future that tie those products together. Rubin thinks that the Android team is the hardest working team in mobile, and he says they're actually still finalizing details today. With that, Hugo Barra, director of mobile products takes over.
10:06 a.m. (from Donald Bell): I gotta say, the Xoom looks a little odd up there with the headphone cable sticking out of the middle of the top edge.
10:06 a.m.: Honeycomb is about bringing Internet-style rapid development to tablets, Barra said. He's going to start off by giving us an overview. Navigation has changed: there's a new button dedicated to multitasking, that will provide visual previews of recently used applications.
10:07 a.m. (from Donald Bell): I like the dock apps in the demo: e-mail, Web, maps, YouTube... Fruit Ninja!
10:07 a.m.: The rest of the screen is for apps, Barra says. He considers the home screen an "application development platform" itself, not just a repository for applications.
10:08 a.m.: He's showing off a few widgets designed for the Honeycomb home screen, flipping through bookmarks, e-books, videos, and sports scores. Developers can use the widgets to create a bubble for light-touch interactions with their users, rather than forcing them to launch an entire app.
10:09 a.m.: Notifications are new on Honeycomb. They are "non-intrusive," he says, but there's more information in each notification. Templates for notifications were created that let developers put those alerts in their apps. He's showing off how a notification can be received when you're playing music, for example, which allows you to pause the music or dismiss the applications.
10:09 a.m. (from Jessica Dolcourt): Right now they seem to be running through some of the features Google.
10:10 a.m.: A "quick settings panel" lets you turn the sound off and get into airplane mode quickly, Barra says. Existing Android apps should run well without modifications on tablets, he says, moving into a demo of Fruit Ninja.
10:11 a.m. (from Donald Bell): Nice way to get common settings at your fingertips using the bottom right corner, instead of digging through the deeper settings menu.
10:11 a.m.: We're watching Barra play "an unmodified version of Fruit Ninja." He's not bad, actually, but the point is to show that a game built for the phone can run well on the tablet without any modifications: Fruit Ninja was built before Honeycomb.
10:13 a.m.: Barra's showing how Gmail navigation works, with what Google is calling "application fragments." Fragments are good for making sure developers can have good interaction between phone versions of their apps and tablet versions, like drag-and-drop e-mail sorting in Gmail.
10:13 a.m. (from Donald Bell): Kinda skirted the legacy app compatibility question by demoing Fruit Ninja. Scaling a game isn't the same thing as scaling an app designed for a 4-inch screen.
10:14 a.m. (from reader Calli): I am loving the drag-and-drop feature.
10:14 a.m.: Now we're moving into performance. Google optimized performance "at every level" for Honeycomb, including 2D and 3D graphics, Barra says. Hardware acceleration is now available for graphics, and a new animation framework allows better transitions and "more polish." Barra says.
10:15 a.m.: He's showing off the navigation transitions, which he called "remarkably smooth" but looked pretty normal to me. A new graphics engine is also available in Honeycomb, which he demos by showing off YouTube walls of videos and the e-book application, which has a nice page-turning feature that looks realistic.
10:17 a.m. (from Donald Bell): I'm betting the baked-in 3D graphic elements are probably going to require some beefy minimum hardware specs.
10:17 a.m.: Other 3D apps that can be built for Honeycomb include maps, prompting another demo. 3D vector graphics allow developers and users to zoom, tilt the map, and see 3D representations of buildings within Google Maps, as we zoom over the Embarcadero in San Francisco near Google's offices in the city. They're also showing off an album navigation app that looks an awful lot like Apple's Cover Flow.
10:18 a.m.: A new app created for Honeycomb was Google Body, which presents 3D representations of the human body. Neither Donald or I could see the Google-implanted brain control chip in the demo.
10:18 a.m. (from Donald Bell): I'm sure it's in there, Tom.
10:18 a.m.: Thomas Williamson, a games developer, has come up on stage. (My apologies to Tom for missing the name of his company.) [Editor's note: I believe he's from War Drum Studios.] They created a game called Monster Madness for the PS3, and they are bringing it over to Android as part of a renewed focus on mobile devices.
10:19 a.m. (from Donald Bell): I think I just saw Chunk from Goonies throw a car.
10:20 a.m.: The game has five huge levels, which requires a lot of performance. They're also showing off a medieval war game that requires dual-core processors on tablets to handle the performance requirements. The English appear to be routing the French.
That's it for that demo. Barra comes back on to talk more about media capabilities of Honeycomb.
10:21 a.m.: The camera app is new for Honeycomb, Barra says. There's a new UI for exposing the controls, which gives users better control over both the front and back cameras on the tablet.
10:23 a.m.: Honeycomb supports video chat, Barra says. We're getting a demo of that, and Google wanted to build more image stabilization technology into the application, which helps save bandwidth in addition to a better experience, he says. He's calling "Lady Killer," but since he forgot to sign in, we're subjected to a mild demo fail. Apparently "Lady Killer" is still sleeping one off, so he's going to call "Anand" instead.
10:23 a.m. (from Donald Bell): I suspect Lady Killer is busy...
10:24 a.m.: Anand's online, but it took him a while to answer the phone. There's a little bit of lag but it's not terrible.
Video changes the world, Barra said, inviting Louis Gump from CNN to show off an application that CNN built for Honeycomb tablets.
10:25 a.m. (from reader Guest): Impressive UI. I can't imagine anybody wanting to put their custom UI on top of this (are [you] listening Motorola?)
10:25 a.m. (from Jessica Dolcourt): Agreed. Let's hope not.
10:25 a.m.: Their application is an Android app launching for free in the "near future," Gump says. Tablets are definitely a force in the marketplace now, he says, and companies like CNN have to make sure they have products for Android users in addition, he says.
10:27 a.m.: The app allows you to scroll through videos on CNN, and it works for text stories as well. It's "an incredibly immersive experience," Gump says. The app can also handle audio updates as well as live video: they're showing us live video coverage of the protests in Egypt projected through the tablet.
10:28 a.m.: Beyond the regular CNN videos, they're also building in a feature that supports CNN's "iReport" citizen journalism feature. This the first time iReport has been available on a tablet, according to CNN, and when you go into that mode from the app you see the most recent iReport videos that have been uploaded.
Apparently it's snowing everywhere but here.
10:29 a.m.: The idea is that regular people sometimes find themselves in situations where they have to share photos and videos of what's going on. Launching the camera feature from the CNN app goes right into the new camera UI, where you can upload a photo with a caption. You're able to see your story uploaded, or close the app and move onto something else.
10:30 a.m. (from Donald Bell): Please, no iReporting. I want to keep my job.
10:30 a.m.: I'm told I actually typed European protests above. As far as we can tell, Europe is fine today, it's Egypt that's in turmoil.
10:31 a.m. (from Donald Bell): I wonder if we'll see these same demos at the iPad 2 launch?
10:31 a.m.: The combination of the video, regular reporting, and imagery in the app makes the experience, Gump says. That's it for CNN, Barra comes back on stage.
10:32 a.m.: Honeycomb was built to "open incredible opportunities for innovation" in tablets by software developers, Barra says. The platform is "just one half of the story," he says, segueing into the Android Market and cloud services portion of the talk.
10:33 a.m. (from reader Judy): What browser is used?
10:33 a.m. (from Jessica Dolcourt): Android has a standard WebKit-based browser, but is traditionally open to third-party browsers.
10:33 a.m.: Android Market is up first. Developers need more control over how they promote their apps and better ways to make money from their apps.
10:33 a.m. (Donald Bell): Web-based Android Market ftw!
10:34 a.m.: Google is announcing the release of the Android Market Web Store.
Most people used the Android Market client to download apps, but you can now do that shopping from your browser and install to the device directly from the Web. Demo time.
10:35 a.m.: Sometimes you're not looking for a specific app, you're just poking around to see what's new. The Web home page was designed to expose more of those applications, with a banner that promotes different applications as well as sorting them by the usual categories. We're checking out the featured applications, settling on Zenonia.
10:35 a.m. (from Donald Bell): I wonder if this is a win for unofficial budget Android tablet manufacturers, or if there's a trick up Google's sleeve to verify the tablet model receiving the apps?
10:36 a.m.: The page has a lot more detail than the Android Market client, with better pictures for promoting applications as well as ways to promote your other applications alongside the one the user selected. Screenshots and user reviews are prominent.
10:38 a.m.: Once you've decided to buy an app, the "buy" button brings up the permissions for the app and lets you choose which device registered to your account is destined to receive the app. That moves into the purchase confirmation page, and payment processing takes place. When the transaction goes through, the app immediately starts downloading to the phone.
10:39 a.m. (from Donald Bell): Oooh, it brings up a drop-down menu of your registered devices and pushes the app download to that device. Cool, but that could also be the hitch that prevents some lesser Android devices from receiving the same content as the big guys.
10:39 a.m.: Friends also tell Android users about cool apps. Say a friend e-mails you with a link to an application page on the new Web store. Clicking on that link takes you right into the store, where you can also watch YouTube videos of the app.
10:41 a.m.: It's connected to Twitter, so you can tweet application purchases or recommendations to your Twitter followers. The tweet contains a link that will take your followers directly to the Web store. The phone experience is slightly different, when you click on the link from the phone, it opens the same page but in the Android Market client on the phone instead of the Web store.
10:42 a.m.: One last demo involving application discovery: You can search within the Web store for applications, and Google has added some new refinements to the search experience to sort by device type, popularity, or reviews. Free apps are a one-click installation process.
10:43 a.m.: Sorry, one last last demo. The My Market section of the Android Market lets you see all the apps you've downloaded in the past, which you can also assign to different devices, and you can give all your Android devices nicknames.
10:44 a.m. (from Donald Bell): You can filter searches to show only apps compatible with your particular Android gadget. Helps to address the splintering of all these devices. Now, if only you could download your OS updates the same way--carrier be damned.
10:45 a.m. (from reader Bryce): The Android Market is live, but does it work, or is it just for show? I'm having trouble signing in.
10:45 a.m. (from Jessica Dolcourt): There may be a gradual roll-out. Google did just promote the live site.
10:45 a.m.: Now we're moving onto purchase behavior. Right now, if the Android Market buyer is using a different currency from the developer, the experience can be confusing because of the automatic currency conversion that takes place. Buyer currency support is coming to the Android Market, meaning developers can set specific prices for dollars, euros, yen, etc. It's optional, and will start with developers outside the U.S. who want to sell in dollars.
Developers also want more ways to make money from the Android Market. Support for in-app purchases is coming to Android Market.
10:47 a.m.: Bart DeCreme (they're not giving us spelling help, sorry Bart) of Disney Mobile comes on stage, claiming to be the mysterious Lady Killer. Disney Mobile has had 60 million apps downloaded on "other platforms," and they are bringing 3 apps to Android. [Editor's note: The speaker's last name is Decrem. Not a bad first guess, Tom.]
10:48 a.m.: Radio Disney is the first app, which is apparently a phenomenon among teenagers who are decidedly not represented in this current crowd. It will be on Android for the first time over the next couple of weeks.
Jelly Car is also coming to Android, one of the most popular of Disney's mobile apps, he says. It's a physics game, navigating a car through various levels.
10:49 a.m.: And, the last app that's coming over is Tap Tap Revenge. That's the most successful franchise in the Disney Mobile lineup and it's now coming to Android with social features and all the music that's found on other platforms. That's been downloaded 50 million times and Disney has sold more than 25 million songs so far.
10:51 a.m.: We're getting a demo of Tap Tap Revenge on a Nexus S, but it will run on Android 2.1 or higher. Bart's going to play Bruno Mars, and you can buy a song to play, a demonstration of the in-app purchasing feature. Once the transaction is done, you can move into the game part, the familiar tap-to-play interface.
10:53 a.m.: Disney put this feature together in several months, but the in-app code didn't arrive until five days before today, meaning Disney was able to add this in really quickly. Google will release developer documentation today as well as sample code.
10:54 a.m.: We're wrapping up, but not before "Lady Killer" makes his long-awaited appearance. It's actually Cee Lo, who actually does appear slightly hungover.
10:54 a.m.: His special appearance lasted about 30 seconds. BOOM.
10:55 a.m. (from Donald Bell): Cee Lo is going to scoop me on a Xoom review. Damn.
10:55 a.m.: We're now being invited to peruse the demos in the back. Google plans to show this off at Mobile World Congress later this month as well.
10:55 a.m. (from Donald Bell): Off to play with some tablets. Sounds like only the Xoom is here.
Bye folks. Thanks for joining us.
10:56 a.m.: That is going to do it. Not a huge amount of news out of this one, has to be said, given how extensively Google and its partners showed off Honeycomb at CES. Still, we'll be sure to get more detailed hands-on demos later today, and thanks for hanging out with us this morning.
10:56 a.m. (from Jessica Dolcourt): Donald and Tom will get a chance to look at 18 app demos. Check back with CNET for more hands-on demos and other Honeycomb news.