Andy Rubin, the "father" of Android, was interviewed by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher at the D: Dive into Mobile conference this evening. After displaying and talking about the Samsung Nexus S, which will be the first mobile phone to ship running Android 2.3, or Gingerbread, Rubin showed a prototype of a Motorola tablet running Android and a new version of Google Maps. Mossberg asked Rubin what version of Android the tablet was running, and he said "This is Honeycomb. And it'll be out sometime next year."
That reply, along with other things that Rubin said, strongly suggest that Honeycomb, not Gingerbread, will be the first "officially sanctioned" version of Android for tablets. Given how long it takes Google's carrier and hardware partners to roll out new versions of Android, that means that we're unlikely to see tablets with Google's full endorsement until mid-2011 at the earliest. By "full support", I mean support of and permission to distribute all of Google's apps, access to the Android Marketplace, and a solid library of third-party apps designed to take advantage of the tablet's screen size. There may be tablets with pre-Gingerbread versions of Android that get "special dispensations" from Google, as Samsung's Galaxy Tab did, but no wide selection of fully-supported Android tablets before Honeycomb.
There will undoubtedly be plenty of tablet prototypes running Gingerbread at the Consumer Electronics Show next month, but it's almost certain that Apple will ship its second generation of tablets before the first Honeycomb tablets ship.