Honeycomb does not require physical buttons
Included with the recent sneak peeks at the Motorola tablet (AKA Stingray) have been some very brief glances at the elusive Android update, codenamed Honeycomb. The majority of the update is still a mystery, but we know that the UI has been completely modified. This has been confirmed by some blurry, hard to make out pictures and Andy Rubin poorly showing it off himself.
While on stage at D: Dive Into Mobile, Rubin also stated that Honeycomb does not require physical or capacitive buttons. He said that they want you to be able to pick up the tablet in any orientation and not “lose the buttons.” If they're on screen, they follow the orientation of the device. As much as I like the thought process behind being able to hold the device any way you want, they aren't the first to come up with this idea, and the ones who did actually left a physical button.
I am torn on the issue, though. As small as capacitive buttons can be, why not keep them? The iPad has its designated home key and I don't “lose” the button when I hold the device upside down or in left or right landscape orientation. I rarely even care what orientation the device is in for that matter. Sure, it subliminally makes you want to hold the device in a particular way, but is there anything wrong with holding your device one way over another?
Honeycomb is more of a desktop-like experience. With your designated soft-keys for home, back, and menu, they will remain at either the bottom or top corners of the display, giving it a “full” OS feel, which should be a welcomed change. But the few tablets I've had with soft-keys rather than physical or capacitive buttons have been rather irritating. You sacrifice – even though it's a minuscule amount – display area for something that could easily be squeezed in the margin around the edge of the device. I guess this is the long-term BlackBerry addict coming out in me, never saying no to more physical buttons.
Since we know (again, a confirmation from the man himself, Mr. Rubin) Android handsets will also get Honeycomb, it is implied that Android 3.0 will in fact support physical buttons. In other words, physical buttons are optional per manufacturer's preference. To me, it seems as if Google has tried to think of everything in their latest upgrade, even some things that are essentially unimportant. Do you suppose this is why the Stingray has been slated for a February release?
The leak source said the hardware is ready for prime time, Honeycomb, on the other hand, is not. I would definitely prefer Google to release a solid update rather than a bug-filled one, but I would also prefer them to not get caught up in the details. What say you? Would you rather have one very large update that covers a more broad set of revisions, or several smaller updates that focus on improving a more precise aspects of the OS?