As expected, Google announced that the next iteration of its Android OS for smart phones would be targeted largely at tablets and other devices with larger screen sizes. Due in the first quarter of 2011, this new release, dubbed "Honeycomb," or Android OS 3.0, features a refined user interface, improved multitasking and notifications, new customization features, and more.

"Honeycomb is the next version of the Android platform, designed from the ground up for devices with larger screen sizes, particularly tablets," Google vice president Andy Rubin wrote in a blog post announcement that was timed to coincide with the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). "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."

While Google acknowledges that it is trailing Apple by entering the tablet market a year after the iPad, it claims that Honeycomb-based tablets won't just be big versions of phones, like the iPad. Instead, Google is offering an experience that is custom designed for the bigger form factor. "Our tablet experience will be better, not just bigger," Google engineer Mike Cleron says.

Google even does Apple one better from a minimalistic perspective: Honeycomb-based tablets require no hardware buttons at all. Instead, software buttons appear onscreen, and rotate correctly as the device is rotated so that a bottom row of buttons will always be on the bottom of the screen.

While there will no doubt be dozens of Honeycomb-based tablets soon, one in particular caused ripples at CES. The Motorola Xoom will ship in the first quarter of 2011 and offer a 10.1-inch screen, 3G and 4G connectivity, Flash 10.1 support, dual cameras, and a laptop dock.