Update: Set aside about 25 minutes and check out our exclusive (and thoroughly awesome) interview with Google's Matias Duarte, the driving force behind Honeycomb interface.
Overview. We learned today at the Verizon keynote that former webOS design guru (now a Google UX Director) Matias Duarte played a big part in the art direction, and frankly, that's a very good thing. The new interface shows a near-unified aesthetic, a marked improvement over what we've seen so far from Android.
After all the live wallpapers we've born witness to since Eclair hit the scene, it was actually a bit of a surprise that this blue-tinted background is completely static in every video. Lock screen is nothing special -- just a slide to the right -- but afterwards we're shown a very neat and clean home screen that functions just like previous Android iterations (the long row of apps looks to be more aesthetic than it is a dedicated space). Physical buttons have been eschewed in favor of more pixelated fare. The top left has Google text and voice search, bottom left has back, home, and app switch buttons. Bottom right has the time, WiFi signal, and battery (the latter two given only half the usual symbol). The top right has an Apps button that takes you to the traditional list of software, and a plus sign that takes you to a pretty classy view of the panes and a list of widgets you can add, app shortcuts to insert, wallpapers to adjust and the ever-elusive "more" category.
Maps. It's pretty much exactly what we saw with the 5.0 update, with an expanded top bar and a more tablet-friendly pop-up menu for locations.
Gmail. If you've used it on the iPad or Galaxy Tab, you pretty know what to expect here. It's a two-column format with the menu on the left and the list of mailbox on the right, which shifts to mailbox on the left and specific message on the right when you dive deeper. All the standard features look to be present and laid out intelligently. We're not ashamed to say this is one the more exciting parts for us.
GTalk. A sleek two-column menu with contacts on the left and options for video chat. Video chat looks somewhat grainy, and you can switch between front- and rear-facing camera, mute yourself, and nix video altogether.
Books. Unlike the current Android version that simply tiles the books, the Honeycomb rendition we've seen stands the tomes up in a row that to browse through. It doesn't capitalize on screen space as much as, say, the iBooks menu, but maybe there's more options. Shop and search are stacked up clearly on the top right. Every instance of actually reading seems to rock the two-page format, but bear in mind we've only seen landscape mode so far.
Browser. Here's where it gets interesting. The browser appears to be more or less a variant of Chrome, none too surprising. There's tabbed browsing, incognito mode, and bookmarking. Add in a physical keyboard, and you've got a Chrome OS killer, ironically enough.
Wrap-up. This is probably Google's most dramatic update to the Android platform yet, and clearly the one that really pushes its UI in a much-needed user-friendly direction. The open question now is how might this transition to the phone platform, if at all?