During Google's May 2011 developer's conference, Google announced that they were rolling out an upgrade to Honeycomb (Android 3.0). This upgrade, Android 3.1, was rolled out to Xoom tablets first, but it will eventually make its way to other Android tablets and even Google TV. Obviously it's not a major upgrade, or it would have its own cool dessert name. Ice Cream Sandwich is the next major upgrade, and that will unify the phone and tablet interfaces. Meanwhile, what's in Android 3.1?
Joysticks, Trackpads, and Dongles, Oh My
Android 3.1 allows you to enter things with something other than your finger and allows support for pointing devices and clicking actions instead of just finger dragging and tapping. As Android tablets start to become popular, game makers might want a way to add a joystick, and tablet makers might want to extend the netbook idea beyond the Asus eeePad Transformer's optional keyboard. You might even want to use a computer mouse. Adding joystick and dongle support makes Android into a more versatile platform for all sorts of devices.
Beyond the joystick and trackpad, you might want to attach a camera or card reader. You might want to use all sorts of other USB devices. You still can't really use a portable hard drive, but at least you can get your movie and camera footage into your tablet for editing.
Homescreen widgets are cool, and now they're re-sizable. Only Honeycomb-optimized widgets are re-sizable for now (which pretty much means only Google created widgets are re-sizable) but this is an idea that is sure to win lots of developer support. I've got some widgets that come in dozens of sizes just so you can pick the right widget. Now all you need to do is long-press and drag them to the right size.
It really wouldn't be a Google upgrade if it didn't make things faster. Animations are faster, transitions are faster, and switching between apps in the task switcher is faster.
Android Movie Rentals
The 3.1 update installs a Video app that browses the Android Market for video rentals. Rentals vary in price but start at $2.99 for most movies. The rental period is 30 days from the purchase and 24 hours from the time you start the movie (which can be viewed over and over during that time.) However, some movies may have different terms. You can also view the rented movies on your TV by connecting your tablet to the TV using an HDMI cable. The Android 3.1 upgrade supports content protection over HDMI, which is one of the pieces that had to be in place for studios to agree to movie rentals.
Google TV will get an Android 3.1 makeover in the summer of 2011, which will improve the look of the interface while incorporating features like movie rentals and non-touch screen navigation.