“People need Android … but people didn’t love Android,” said Matias Duarte, director of the Android OS user experience, explaining why the world’s most popular smartphone OS needed a full redesign. Ice Cream Sandwich, now officially labeled Android 4.0, is that overhaul.
Our hands-on with the Galaxy Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich will be coming shortly, but here’s a quick rundown of what Android 4.0 will be bringing to the table come November.
Now the phone homescreen now gets Honeycomb-style widgets, seen on Android tablets. And better than on Honeycomb, you can resize widgets any way you like, so Android users don’t have to put up with those painful gaps in homescreen layouts.
App icons can be dragged into folders, a la iOS. But Ice Cream Sandwich one-ups iPhone by letting you put people (or at least speed-dial shortcuts) into folders too, and even put people in the favorites tray.
Gmail now supports two-line previews, and sports a new context-sensitive action bar at the bottom of the screen. Gesture support allows you to swipe left and right between emails.
Android already had a better notification system than anyone else — a pull-down tray that most likely inspired the one now found in iOS 5. But they made it better, letting you flick away notifications you don’t care about, so you can save just the important ones for later. You can peek into notifications from the lockscreen, too.
The stock browser now sports tabs, and it maxes out at 16. Web pages can now also be saved offline for later perusal, and users can directly request the desktop version of a site.
It’s been killing phone reviewers that we can’t share Android screenshots simply, the way we can on iOS devices. Well, now Android has the exact same screenshot capability, with a cute little Polaroid animation to highlight the action.
Copying and pasting content is made much easier, as you can now move around entire blocks of text. Very useful.
The calendar also lets you flick through dates more easily, and pinch out to zoom in on a day’s agenda, pinch in to see a month at a glance.
Camera features image stabilization, improved autofocus, and integration with other apps for sending photos or instant upload to Google+. Oh, and who could forget built-in face detection, panorama and time lapse modes, and on-the-fly photo retouching and enhancements.
One of the most ambitious is Ice Cream Sandwich’s new Face Unlock feature, which allows users to unlock their handsets just by looking into the front-facing camera.
Users can now drill down into their data usage over a certain period of time, including the ability to see which apps are the biggest data hogs and the ability to limit data usage to a certain threshold.
The Galaxy Nexus, like its predecessor, the Nexus S, has near-field communication, a chip inside that will let you pay for things at participating retailers, and share data.
But the Android team also now has a technique called Beam, that uses NFC to share websites, maps, YouTube videos and people cards, all by just placing two phones together and tapping a screen. If you’ve got an app or game open, you can immediately share it with a fellow Nexuser by beaming over a download link.