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Android 3.0 Pushes Fragmentation Further

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This year's Consumer Electronics Show is shaping up to be pretty exciting. Motorola introduced the dual-core Atrix Android phone that can dock into a laptop. Samsung showed off a great point-and-shoot camera which integrates seamlessly with its Galaxy S line of phones. Oxygen Audio unleashed a very cool car stereo head unit called O'Car which acts as a docking station for any iPhone model -- allowing for not only music over your stereo speakers but Bluetooth calls, GPS, Pandora, and more.

But what many are calling the single most exciting moment of CES thus far isn't a new smartphone or camera. It's Google's sneak peek of Android 3.0, AKA Honeycomb.

As you can see from this Tron-tastic clip, Honeycomb truly pushes Android into an exciting new direction. With larger icons, an eye-catching UI, and silky-smooth multitasking, Android 3.0 is as Apple as Google can get. YouTube and Gmail get a redesign, Google eBooks has a flashy touch, and Google Talk allows for spiffy video chat. All within what looks to be a tremendous new design.

So why the hell is it going to be exclusive only to tablets?

Android already suffers from a problem with fragmentation. Different versions are spread across devices of all shapes and sizes. Upgrades are subjected to delays due to carriers' whims. Developers are stymied by crosschecking their apps on an overwhelming number of formats.

How could Google exacerbate the problem by releasing a version of Android that might only see release on a certain type of device?

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with a tablet-exclusive version of Android, per se. However, Google's doing itself a disservice by not only giving it the Android name but actually placing it in line with the versions currently running on smartphones. It's not "Android Tablet 1.0," it's "Android 3.0."

So what are Motorola Droid owners running 2.2.1 told when they ask about the upgrade to 3.0? "Sorry. That's only for tablets." Add that to the millions of people with devices that may never see an upgrade to 2.2 and you have a much bigger fragmentation problem.

While the "Built Entirely for Tablet" header could apply only for the time-being -- permitting some eventual development of Honeycomb smartphones -- the Android landscape is confusing enough as it is for casual observers. And if Android smartphones will eventually see 3.0, that information should be stressed and underscored with every mention of Honeycomb -- lest developers and potential customers begin shying away from more fragmentation.

That being said, the longer the window between a Honeycomb tablet and a Honeycomb smartphone, the more ammunition Google provides Apple.

And with a Verizon iPhone on the horizon, Apple has plenty of weaponry.
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