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Google unveils Android 3.1 at Google I/O 2011

It is old news that the next version of the Android operating system will be known as Ice Cream Sandwich (hmm, yummy) and that it will supposedly be released to OEMs sometime in Q4 this year. But in spite of that, Google has somehow managed to push out an update for its tablet-centric build of Android known as Honeycomb in its Google I/O 2011 keynote address before it gets merged with Gingerbread to form Ice Cream Sandwich. So what can consumers look forward to the first major update to Honeycomb?

Honeycomb-totting tablets are still few and far between on the market, but it is clear that Google is trying its best to fix the major bugs and issues that have been reportedly found on its tablet-centric build of the Android operating system. However, it seems that Google may have outdone even itself this time, now that it has finally taken the wraps off what is essentially a major update for tablets running on Honeycomb in its Google I/O 2011 developer conference held at San Francisco. 

According to various reports, one of the major refinements made to Honeycomb in version 3.1 is centred around the operating system's user interface. Google claims that the updated user interface in Android 3.1 is now more intuitive and efficient for consumers to use, due to the implementation of various features such as improved transitions between the system and installed apps, while the Launcher's animations have been tweaked to allow for "a smoother and faster transition to and from the Apps list". In addition, the user interface in Android 3.1 now features consistent audio feedback, while the ability to resize widgets has also been added to the mix.

Another new feature which Google was quick to boast of in Android 3.1 is its newfound compatibility with a wide range of USB accessories. Examples of such accessories include digital cameras, keyboards, computer mice and even that controller from your favourite video game console. However, Google was quick to add that its support for USB accessories is greatly dependant on the components used in the corresponding devices, and that Android support for these devices is purely up to the manufacturers' discretion.

Last but not least, the other new features present in Android 3.1 includes a faster web browser with an improved user interface, an updated Gallery app which supports the importing of images directly from digital cameras via PTP , the introduction of new features for WiFi connectivity, such as WiFi Lock and Preferred Network Offload and a new Movies app which allows users to rent movies directly from the Android Market.

The Motorola XOOM will be the first tablet to receive the Android 3.1 update, which will be rolled out to owners of the device by as early as today. Also, word has it that the GoogleTV is slated to receive the update some time in summer, although there is no word on when non-XOOM tablets will be able to obtain the update. And with Ice Cream Sandwich due for release in the fourth quarter of 2011, it seems that Android 3.1 will be the first and last major update for Honeycomb before both the tablet-optimized and smartphone-optimized versions of Android are unified back into a single common release.

Source: Android Developers, Chron.com

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