Android Honeycomb ups the tablet ante significantly

honeycombCES- and Google-watchers got a sneak preview of the new tablet-specific Android release Honeycomb yesterday when Google mistakenly released, then pulled, a video showing off the operating system. With the cat out of the bag, it went ahead and formally released details later in the day. Check out the video below showing off the tablet OS in action. It looks like the iPad — like the iPhone before it — will finally get a legitimate competitor from Google.

Among the new capabilities, according to the Google Mobile blog:

We’ve spent a lot of time refining the user experience in Honeycomb, and we’ve developed a brand new, truly virtual and holographic user interface. Many of Android’s existing features will really shine on Honeycomb: refined multi-tasking, elegant notifications, access to over 100,000 apps on Android Market, home screen customization with a new 3D experience and redesigned widgets that are richer and more interactive.

The new OS is better seen than described, check out the video below.

With 2011 more and more looking like the year of the tablet, a legitimate (and particularly a multi-operator) alternative to the Apple iPad has the potential to shake things up. It will also be interesting to see if Honeycomb tablets come more in the wifi or 3G variety. Our bet: a little of both, with the wifi tablet emerging as both a walk-around in-home device and TV companion and 3G tablets appealing to commuters and mobile workers.

Motorola debuted one of the first Honeycomb tablets in Xoom, as did LG with the G-Slate, while news this week that Amazon is opening an Android app store shows a growing ecosystem developing around the smartphone, and now tablet, mobile operating system.

Meanwhile, Android passed Apple for the first time in smartphone market share (26% to 25%), according to research released this week from Comscore.

Could tablets be next?

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