Android This Week: Market Matures; Honeycomb Unveiled; Turbo Tablet

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Developers and consumers have reason to rejoice this week as the Android Market gains parity with the iTunes App Store in some areas while exceeding it in others. Google announced support for both in-app purchases and local currency pricing in the Market. I’ve noted in the past that developers have been waiting patiently to earn money from their Android endeavors and these new features should help. Indeed, initial reactions from Android devs are positive and may influence more apps to go with the freemium model. The base functionality is available at no cost, but additional features are easily purchased within the app.

Even better for consumers is the debut of Google’s new web-based Android Market, which also launched this week. A new store design that’s accessible from any web browser should improve application discovery, which both Google and developers for the platform hope will bring additional downloads to Android devices. Shoppers can share their favorite applications directly from the Market through Twitter integration, and software can be purchased, then beamed to an Android device right over the air since purchases are tied to a Google account. I tested the web storefront and found it to be a simple and effective solution to get applications on both my Android handset and tablet.

Speaking of tablets, these devices took front stage at Google’s Honeycomb event this past Wednesday. Google demonstrated all the new Android 3.0 features specific to tablets, ranging from improved notifications, a new graphics engine, better widgets and support for video chat on Google Talk. While the event focused on larger screened devices, Google Director of Mobile Products Hugo Barra told us the company is looking to get Honeycomb features on handsets as well. My expectation is that many of Honeycomb’s features, APIs and programming methods will slowly filter down to the small screen, helping to unify the Android platform across both tablets and smartphones.

Until the new Android tablets arrive with Honeycomb, I’m still addicted to my Samsung Galaxy Tab, even as one research firm claimed a 16-percent return rate on the device. Samsung has refuted such statements, saying the actual rate is 2 percent. Regardless of the actual rate, my Tab has become much more enjoyable after flashing this custom kernel and ROM on the device. Since the ROM is built for the European version of the Tab, I’ve gained the Phone Dialer and video calling app, but there’s more work to do before I get these features working here in the U.S. More important to me is the very noticeable performance boost: The device is now as responsive as my Apple iPad was before I sold it, and the Tab now appears to run longer on a single charge as well.

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