Android’s answer to the iPad — a software release called Honeycomb — is coming soon. Multiple tablet devices like the Motorola Xoom are on the way, and we’re probably going to see dozens of them by the end of the year. But while the OS is nearly done and Google’s apps are looking great, third party developers still have to optimize their applications for these much bigger screens. Today, Google is allowing developers to do just that: it’s released the preview version of the Android 3.0 SDK.
This is going to give us our closest look at Android 3.0, which has been demoed before, but never very throughly. Many of the new features are spelled out on the Platform Highlights page, which we’re still combing through. Here are some of the main highlights:
Persistent Action Bar
The platform provides each application with its own instance of the Action Bar at the top of the screen, which the application can use to give the user quick access to contextual options, widgets, status, navigation, and more. The application can also customize the display theme of its Action Bar instance.
The Action Bar lets developers expose more features of their applications to users in a familiar location, while also unifying the experience of using an application that spans multiple Activities or states.
Activity fragments, for greater control of content and design flexibility
Starting with Android 3.0, developers can break the Activities of their applications into subcomponents called Fragments, then combine them in a variety of ways to create a richer, more interactive experience. For example, an application can use a set of Fragments to create a true multipane UI, with the user being able to interact with each pane independently. Fragments can be added, removed, replaced, and animated inside an Activity dynamically, and they are modular and reusable across multiple Activities. Because they are modular, Fragments also offer an efficient way for developers to write applications that can run properly on both larger screen as well as smaller screen devices.