Google unveiled the next generation of its Android operating system for tablets today. It will begin rolling out to tablets starting with the Verizon Motorola XOOM 3G today, and will eventually be available for additional tablets and Google TV set top boxes — which will also add support for the Android Market and 3rd party apps.

Tablets will receive a number improvements including user interface tweaks and better hardware support. Here are some of the new features in Google Android 3.1:

New Apps

The web browser has been updated with new Quick Controls options for viewing thumbnails of currently open tabs or for closing tabs. There’s also better support for CSS 3D and fixed positioning and support for HTML5 embedded video playback as well as support for plugins that use hardware accelerated rendering — such as the latest version of Adobe Flash Player.

The Gallery app now supports Picture Transfer Protocol for transferring photos from a camera over a USB connection.

The Calendar features larger grids and new controls in the date picker.

The Email app includes formating improvements and pre-fetches email only over WiFi, to save battery life when you’re on a 3G connection. The Email home screen widget also offers more options including the ability to flip through your Inbox, unread, or starred items.

The Music app now supports the Music Beta by Google online music storage and streaming service — and the operating system also adds native support for FLAC audio.

USB Host Capabilities

Android 3.1 adds support for USB peripherals including keyboards, mice, and game controllers. Users will also be able to plug in a digital camera to copy pictures directly to a tablet.

You’ll be able to connect most game controllers that are designed to work with USB or Bluetooth HID, including Sony Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 controllers.

Google says developers will be able to write applications to extend support for almost any type of USB device.

When you plug in a USB device, developers can write code so that an application is automatically launched — or a URL can be launched automatically to look for an application that goes with the hardware.

Recent Apps

Google Android 3.0 includes a recent apps menu that shows a handful or programs that are either currently running or which had recently been opened. Android 3.1 includes a much longer list which allows you to scroll up and down to view additional thumbnail icons for recently opened apps.

Resizable Home Screen Widgets

In addition to scrollable home screen widgets, Honeycomb devices will now support resizable widgets. You can drag on the edges of these widgets to expand either horizontally or vertically — or both. Google says developers will be able to upgrade their scrollable widgets to support the new feature by changing just a few lines of code.

User Interface Tweaks

The program launcher animation has been optimized for faster transitions. Google has also changed colors, text, and positioning of some UI elements to make things easier to see, and there are now more consistent sounds throughout the system making it easier to get audio feedback.

When you tap the home button, you’ll also now go to the home screen most recently used instead of back to the center home screen.

WiFi improvements

Google is adding features to allow applications keep high performance WiFi connections for music, movies, or voice going even when the screen is off.

Android 3.1 also lets you configure an HTTP proxy for individual WiFi access points by tapping and holding the access point in the settings menu.

there’s also a new Preferred Network Offload feature that will save battery power when WiFi needs to be on continuously for a long time.


Brad Linder

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

4 replies on “What’s new in Google Android 3.1?”

  1. Looking at the Android screen, their UI is a mess. No wonder it’s having a hard time competing with the Apple iPad. Google needs to stop treating UIs like an afterthought!

    1. Umm that screenshot at the top was a collage someone made to show off a bunch of widgets. Android factory is pretty clean and you can move everything around to your tastes. Honeycomb hasnt fully matured yet but is more potentially capable in the long run since its flexible and open. When it comes to UI no one has got it totally right yet especially tablets and smartphones. Look at how desktop UIs have slowly evolved over the last 30 years. On Desktops you generally have a good idea of what users do with a keyboard and mouse. Touch tablets are used entirely differently. When UIs are designed the first questin is ususally something like “How with this be used? What are common tasks to be performed?” Obviously tablets are primarily designed and pitched for media consumption not computing. As for how they are used its touch and ppl hold these various form facor devices in many ways.

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