Ina Fried

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Google’s Honeycomb Designer: Humans Shouldn’t Have to Do a Computer’s Work

In designing Honeycomb, Google executive Matias Duarte said that he hearkened back to one of his core beliefs: That humans shouldn’t have to do work that computers are good at.

Among his pet peeves, for example, is that most computers still make a user decide when they want to save their work. And although a popular Android app lets users selectively quit different programs, Duarte said there shouldn’t be a need for something like the Advanced Task Killer.

“Managing the computing resources, deciding what takes up resident RAM, what takes up resident cycles,” Duarte said in an interview with Mobilized, “this is not a task we should ask humans to do, because, first of all, humans don’t do a very good job of it. They don’t have enough information and enough context.”

For his part, Duarte takes issue with the fact that so many people use the Task Killer app, arguing that Android already does a good job of managing memory and that he has never found the need to run the app on any of his devices.

Meanwhile, other tasks should be left to humans, such as deciding when and how often they are interrupted. A new notification system in Honeycomb allows a user to get more notifications in a single spot and to hit the equivalent of a “do not disturb” button to avoid being bothered with details on new emails and pokes from Facebook.

In addition to trying to be more responsive to the user, Honeycomb aims to be much better suited to larger-screen devices, such as tablets. One of the key changes is the removal of the need for fixed buttons. That’s important, Duarte said, because while there is one dominant way of holding a phone, tablets should be able to be held in many different positions. Among the other refinements planned for Honeycomb are the ability to move more easily between recently used tasks using a new taskbar at the bottom of the screen and support for multiple panes–or “fragments”–within an application, something Duarte said should help Android better scale on devices of differing screen sizes.

“We have this concept of fragments, which allows developers to write their application in a set of modular Lego pieces,” Duarte said. In one size, it might make sense to have two panes stacked on top of each other, while in another it might make sense to have them side-by-side, and a third might fit three such panes on a single screen, he said.

Google is set to offer a more detailed look at Honeycomb at an event on Wednesday that starts at 10 am PT. Mobilized will have live coverage. Motorola’s Xoom, which goes on sale later this month, is the lead device, to be followed in the coming months by other devices, including the LG G-Slate, which is bound for T-Mobile.