The Honeycomb effect

December 7, 2010, 6:14 PM UTC

Android users have been waiting for the just released Gingerbread upgrade. But yesterday Andy Rubin leapfrogged them by demoing next-gen OS Honeycomb, and chatting about the time Google bit off more than it could chew.

Andy Rubin at D: Dive Into Mobile Credit: Asa Mathat | All Things Digital.

The latest version of the Android operating system, Gingerbread, is barely out of the oven but Andy Rubin, who heads up Android for Google (GOOG), couldn’t resist giving the audience at the D: Dive into Mobile conference a taste of the next version—Honeycomb.

On stage last night Rubin pulled out a prototype Motorola (MOT) tablet running on Android 3.0 (aka Honeycomb), which included a new version of Google maps for Android with a 3D component.

Tablets running on older versions of Android are already on the market, but Google has said those previous iterations weren’t designed for that device. When asked if Honeycomb is specifically for tablets or just happens to work on tablets, Rubin said that it was a bit of both.

Besides showing off his new tablet, the talk was kept mostly to phones. Rubin noted that there are now 172 different phones running Android today, but he resisted Android being labeled the Microsoft of the ecosystem, saying instead, “We’re probably more like the Linux of phones.”

All Things D’s Kara Swisher pushed Rubin to talk money, and while Rubin wouldn’t go into details he did say that while Android is profitable, “I probably wouldn’t have made it as a startup company.”

Although Rubin believes the race won’t come down to just two operating systems, he said that Android and Apple’s (AAPL) platform (iOS) have a clear advantage in being new and starting from a clean slate. He said that other operating systems, like Microsoft (MSFT), include some 20-year-old code that was written before the Internet “even existed.” When it came to Nokia (NOK), which uses its own operating system, Rubin wouldn’t say whether he’d met with the company regarding Android.

Rubin did acknowledge some of Android’s problems, such as its complexity of use. But he pointed out that comes with the territory of allowing consumers to add and change the phone. Rubin said they had to make some concessions there that led to “geeking it out.”

He also admitted that Google may have “bit off a little more than we could chew” with its Nexus One phone, which Google tried to sell online through its own store and unlocked (not attached to any one carrier). With the Nexus S, Google is returning to the notion of an unlocked phone but is instead selling it through traditional retail channels at Best Buy.