Honeycomb Tablets Set to Improve With Android 3.1

Motorola(s mmi) Xoom owners on the Verizon Wireless(s vz) network have an update waiting for their tablets Tuesday as Google announced Honeycomb 3.1. The improved tablet software will be pushed to Xoom 3G devices first, while other Honeycomb tablets will see the update in the coming weeks. Honeycomb 3.1 won’t address one issue facing Google’s (s goog) tablet — the lack of optimized, third-party apps — but  it will make the core experience better, while also expanding functionality.

Among the highlights of Android Honeycomb 3.1:

  • The recent task / app list will display more items and can be scrolled through for navigation.
  • Widgets are expanded and improved. One example shown today at the Google I/O developer event was resizing the email widget on the desktop.
  • USB host support is included, allowing Honeycomb tablets to connect to and use wired keyboards, mice, game controllers and more.
  • A new open accessory API can bring applications that connect tablets to musical equipment, exercise equipment and robotics systems. This API is also compatible with Android 2.3.4 handsets. Google demonstrated a phone connected to an exercise bike. Pedaling the bike moved a character in a demo game.
  • Support for Wi-Fi connections even if the tablet display is off.

It will be up to developers to create tablet-optimized software for Honeycomb tablets, but Google is helping in that area as well, with the debut of its Music Beta and Google Movies. The Music app was anticipated, and is similar to Amazon’s(s amzn) recent Cloud Storage and Player services. Google Movies is a new rental option available today in the Android Market, and works with both tablets and handsets. Movies can be streamed over the web or “pinned” to a specific device for download and consumption.

Overall, the improvements will be welcomed by tablet owners, but I personally still find the user interface to be too “PC-like” with its menus and setting placements. And on Android 3.0, I’m still experiencing application crashes far too often for me to take the plunge on a Honeycomb tablet. Hopefully, I’ll get a look at version 3.1 on a tablet soon to determine if the overall system has gained any stability.