Google Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich was the first version of Google’s mobile operating system designed to run on phones and tablets. But it doesn’t look exactly the same on both devices. On a phone the notification bar is at the top of the screen, while on a tablet it’s merged with the task bar at the bottom.
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean also has different layouts for phones and tablets — but there’s also a new variant: a user interface for 7 inch tablets.
When Google started handing out Nexus 7 tablets at the Google I/O conference recently, early owners noticed that the 7 inch tablet seems to have a phone-like user interface. Some folks even took steps to tweak the software to display a more tablet-like UI.
But Computer World checked with Google and found out that the Nexus 7 doesn’t actually use a phone layout. Instead, it uses a new layout designed for 7 inch tablets.
Tablets with larger displays will use the same interface that we’ve seen on tablets running Android 3.0 and later. But 7 inch tablets will have features drawing from the earlier Android phone and tablet designs.
The notification bar is at the top of the screen, and if you use the default home screen app, your home screen is stuck in portrait mode.
But when you use the Gmail app in landscape mode you’ll see a multi-pane view with a list of messages or labels on the left and the body of your email messages on the right. Other apps designed with multiple panes should work the same way.
Now that there are three different Android layouts: phone, 7 inch tablet, and 10 inch tablet, you might think Android’s so-called “fragmentation” problem will get worse. But Google’s developer tools for Android make it possible to code apps that automatically change their layouts depending on the screen size.
So most Android apps should be able to run on phones or tablets with large or small screens.
What’s a little less clear is what Android 4.1 will look like on tablets with less common screen sizes. While most Android tablets have 7 or 10 inch displays, there are also models with 7.7, 8, 8.9, and 9.7 inch displays. When they run Jelly Bean will they look like the Google Nexus 7? Or will they look like a larger tablet such as a Motorola XOOM?