Google Will Combine Tablet & Phone Android Versions

Google plans to combine features from the tablet and smartphone versions of its Android operating system in the next major release, according to comments from Google chairman Eric Schmidt. The soon to be released Honeycomb version of Android was intended for the tablet market — the first such tablet version of Android — and added features not available to Android-powered smartphones. The version after, according to the former CEO, will correct this.

Speaking about Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and 3.0 (Honeycomb), Mr. Schmidt told the Mobile World congress that, “The two of them – notice that starts with a G and the next one starts with an H. You can imagine the follow-on will start with an I and it will be named after a dessert and it will combine capabilities of both the G and the H release.”

Gingerbread was aimed at smartphones, while Honeycomb was intended for the tablet market. The “I” release (possibly Ice Cream or Ice Cream Sandwich, according to PC Magazine) will look to transition the OS back towards a unified market.

In an interview with Phone Scoop, Google Android Engineering Director Dave Burke said that this “likely” include bringing the “action bar” at the top of Honeycomb’s screen to smartphones, and the tablet app switcher, too. The “system bar” users will find in their Honeycomb tablets at the bottom of the screen will not be coming to phones, however.

“Fracturing” of Android is one of the biggest areas for criticism — and one of the biggest challenges — Google has faced in its battle against Apple’s iOS for smartphones and tablets. In this one regard, however, Apple has also faced challenges in iPhone and iPad development. Features like multitasking and app folders were introduced on iPhone 4 months before they came to iPad, but at the same time there was never any doubt that Apple was working on unifying those features.

Controlling the software and the hardware allows Apple to keep a close reign on such things, whereas Google faces not only internal development timelines, but also the company must suffer the consequences of what any and all comers might do with its OSes once they are released.

For instance, we saw dozens of Android tablets (that still aren’t shipping) at CES that used Android 2.2 or even Android 2.1, and some of those systems were embedded, and thus can’t be upgraded by the user. Not only are those versions outdated, they were never intended for use on tablets in the first place, which is why the bigger players have been waiting for a proper tablet version of Android in the form of Honeycomb.

As it stands, however, Honeycomb stands apart from Froyo and Gingerbread, and all the other versions of Android out there, at least until Ice Cream makes its debut sometime in the future.