Update: After spending some time with the emulator, I’ve posted some hands-on impressions and additional photos.

Google has released the first preview version of the Software Developer Kit for Android 3.0 Honeycomb. While Honeycomb isn’t expected to actually ship for at least another month or two, the preview SDK gives developers a chance to see what their apps will look like on the new tablet-friendly version of Google’s mobile operating system, and start modifying existing apps or writing new apps for Android 3.0 tablets.

The system image and APIs in the developer tools aren’t final yet, but they do provide coders with access to the new UI framework for larger displays including support for Honeycomb widgets, themes, notifications, and drag and drop functionality. There’s also support for enhanced 2D and 3D graphics and enhancements for dual core processors — although contrary to early reports, Android 3.0 will apparently support single core processors as well.

There are also new Bluetooth APIs for streaming audio or controlling the tablet from a Bluetooth headset.

There’s also a pluggable DRM framework for protected content, which if I understand it correctly, could make it much easier for companies such as Netflix and Blockbuster to bring subscription and on-demand video apps to the Android Market without having to develop different apps for each different piece of hardware.

If you’re not a developer, there’s still plenty of good reason to check out the new SDK page. Google has posted some details about how the new operating system will work. For instance, there’s a new System Bar at the bottom of screen with notifications system status, and other details. It’s always present, but you can dim it for a full-screen experience when watching videos or performing other actions.

The Recent Apps menu has also been retooled to take advantage of the extra screen real estate you get on a tablet. Instead of simply showing icons representing recently used apps, you’ll get a snapshot showing the actual state of the app when you last viewed it.

Google has also redesigned the Android keyboard to work on larger screens, which is something I’ve been waiting to hear for ages. The stock Android 2.x keyboard just doesn’t cut it on 7 inch and larger devices. Aside from a new layout, there are also new keys such as Tab.

Android 3.0 also includes completely redesigned camera, gallery, contacts, email, and web browser apps. As expected, the browser now supports tabs instead of separate windows. There’s also an incognito mode for anonymous browsing. The camera app makes it easier to access settings such as focus, flash, and exposure details. The contact and email apps both have a new two-pane view.

Brad Linder

Brad Linder is editor of Liliputing and Mobiputing. He's been tinkering with mobile tech for decades and writing about it since...