Need to know: Android Ice Cream Sandwich
If you believe Google, Ice Cream Sandwich isn’t just the latest 4.0 version of Android mobile OS that brings tablets and smartphones together at last – it’s also a way of life. According to Google Mobile boss Andy Rubin: “It’s intuitive and simple, beautiful , with everything that Google offers in cloud services 24 hours a day. It’s like your phone is acting on your behalf even when it’s sitting in your pocket.”
We’ll run through some of the new features below but they’re all aimed at three objectives: to enchant you, to simplify your life and (always a popular choice in the Stuff offices) to make you awesome. On the design side, there’s a new typeface called Roboto that has a clean, modern feel, as well as UI tweaks imported from, ahem, other mobile operating systems.
iOS ‘donates’ folders, instant photo uploads to the cloud (via Google+, natch) and an Action Bar that replaces the old physical navigation buttons. Palm’s WebOS hands over its nice flick-to-dismiss gesture that you can use throughout Android 4.0, for example to get rid of apps in the multi-task button, itself lifted from the tablet-only Honeycomb.
Widgets now have their own tab in the apps screen and can be stacked, scrolled and resized in a flash. You can finally grab an Android screenshot without rooting your device (just hit power and volume down), while the keyboard and voice input both get a performance refresh – although sadly there’s still no Swype built-in.
Android maintains its super-geek credentials with a data usage feature that charts your GB, warning you when you near your monthly limit and even cutting off mobile data if you’re feeling skint. Gmail makes the most of the new resolution to bump up previews to two lines and offers offline searching of your mail. Calendars now have a smooth pinch-to-zoom action that lets you drill down to the minutae of your agenda. Browsing supports up to 16 tabs (there’s confidence in Android’s multi-tasking ability), with a live preview of each – and bookmarks now synch automatically with Chrome browsers on your desktop or elsewhere.
Face Unlock lets you use your mug to access your phone, and the camera has had a suite of other improvements. Cutting the shutter lag to virtually zero will probably be the most useful, although a continuous panorama function where you just pan slowly from side to side is impressive, as are timelapse films, video snapshots, a basic image editor and automatically focusing on faces. There’s a more ‘magaziney’ photo gallery, too.
Google has rebranded all your Contacts as simply People, gathering up your favourites and most contacted buddies and giving everyone a dedicated Quick Contact Card. This pulls in photos and contact details from all manner of social networks (including Google+! Anyone? Anyone?), and lets you click through to see all their aggregated posts and updates.
Finally, Android Beam uses the NFC chipset inside the Samsung Galaxy Nexus to swap files, web pages and more just by touching two phones togethers. It’s works as a sort of super-Bump, but is smart enough to work with routes from Maps and even apps, where Beam-ing takes the second device straight to the Android Market to download it.
Ice Cream Sandwich has dozens more tweaks and changes – watch this space for a full rundown once we get our hands on it.