The future Ice Cream Sandwich version merges the phone functions of Android Gingerbread with the tablet features in Honeycomb, plus tosses in key improvements that enable desktop functionality. Most importantly, Ice Cream Sandwich should work on all screen sizes, from wristwatches to Jumbotrons.
The new version will end Android hardware fragmentation, according to Google, because it will work on all form factors.
Google has already announced strong support for big-screen TVs. But between the 10-inch tablets and 51-inch televisions is enormous room for hardware makers to create desktop PC-size touch tablets with USB peripherals, resizable windows and a whole app store of utilities and programs to choose from.
The advantages of such a system are low cost, ease of use and fun. A giant touch tablet will be an incredible thrill to use for many users, from executives to children to grandmas.
Microsoft should be freaking out.
But Andoid desktops won't and can't replace Windows PCs and Macs for many users. They won't have the power, software and device compatibility or professional-quality applications that fully featured desktops have.
Lockheimer told me that hardware makers would have compatibility issues to overcome.
Those limitations include the inability to run full-featured desktop applications or support the majority of existing hardware peripherals. Google is starting from scratch in the building of a third-party ecosystem, so we can expect slim pickings for a while in the area of compatible peripherals.
There are also a host of other small limitations to be worked out. For example, even though Android 3.1 currently supports hard drives and other peripheral storage in theory, it's not something you can do yet in practice. Android does not expose file locations. There's no file management system.
So, unlike on a PC, where you can plug in a hard drive and see your files in folders, Android doesn't allow this. But Google is working on it. I would expect some kind of file management capability in Ice Cream Sandwich later this year.
But for a majority of users, who currently use full-powered PCs for low-powered tasks -- surfing the web, checking Facebook and e-mail, and running apps -- a giant desktop tablet powered by Android Ice Cream Sandwich would offer an appealing alternative.
More importantly, the impulse to replicate PC functionality -- file management, plug-in mice and keyboards and all the rest -- misses the point of multi-touch operating systems. As Apple demonstrated with the iPad, the compelling use case is an appliance, a closed box that works seamlessly without "managing" everything. We might see desktop Android appliances as early as this year. I don't know about you, but I want one.