Thursday, October 20, 2011

Android Ice Cream Sandwich

Google and Samsung launched Galaxy Nexus, the third Nexus Smartphone, and Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), the new Android edition that brings many of the Honeycomb features to smartphones. Ice Cream Sandwich is the first Android version that will work on smartphones, tablets and TVs, but today's launch only focused on smartphones.

Android 4.0 brings a polished border that's more visual, more consistent and more interactive. Hardware buttons are replaced by virtual buttons in phones like Galaxy Nexus and Android 4.0 supports this change, while also allowing users to momentarily hide the buttons. Contextual menus are now displayed consistently at the top of the screen, so it's easier to find them. The menu button has been replaced by a fresh apps button that lets you switch to an app you've used recently. This feature was already accessible in Android, but the new interface uses thumbnails and it looks much better.

Just like in iOS, you can now create folders by dragging one app onto another app. You can also uninstall apps or disable pre-installed apps from the launcher. That's a good news for users because many carriers bundle applications that aren't very helpful.

Widgets are now resizable and can comprise more features, just like a regular app. The standard widgets are more powerful and you'll most likely use them more often instead of opening the corresponding apps.

You no longer have to unlock a phone to check the newest notifications, see the album art of the song that's at present playing or open the camera app. You can now react to incoming calls using text message templates and dismiss individual notifications. There's also Face Unlock, a simple way to unlock a device using facial recognition.

The soft keyboard has been enhanced and it offers better suggestions. There's a new spell-checker that underlines errors and suggests how you might fix them.

Android's voice input engine lets you say a text without having to pause. "Users can speak continously for a extended time, even pausing for intervals if needed, and dictate punctuation to create correct sentences. As the voice input engine enters text, it underlines credible dictation errors in gray."

There's a new People app that integrates with Google+ and other social services, an updated calendar app that allows other applications to add events, visual voicemail in the phone app, a camera app that supports continuous focus, zero shutter lag exposure, stabilized image zoom, focus detection and single-motion panorama. The redesigned Gallery app focuses on functionality instead of eye-candy and makes it easier to edit photos and sort albums by time, location, people and tags.

Android lastly allows users to take screenshots without installing additional apps. The browser syncs bookmarks with Google Chrome, lets you save pages for offline reading and has an alternative to change the user agent of the browser so you can go to the desktop description of a page. Android's browser includes V8's Crankshaft update which improves JavaScript performance. "In benchmarks run on a Nexus S device, the Android 4.0 browser showed an improvement of almost 220% over the Android 2.3 browser in the V8 Benchmark Suite and more than 35% in the Sun Spider 9.1 JavaScript Benchmark." The tabs share the border used for switching to a recent app.

The email app brings better contact auto-completion, templates, and integrated menu for accounts and labels, nested subfolders and searching across folders on the server. NFC is now used in Android Beam, a simple way to split contacts, apps, videos with compatible devices. "It's extremely simple and convenient to use — there's no menu to open, application to launch, or pairing needed. Just touch one Android-powered phone to another, then tap to send."

The reference device for Android 4.0 is Galaxy Nexus, a Samsung smartphone that uses a 4.65" Contour Display (HD Super AMOLED) with a 1280 x 720 declaration, a dual core 1.2GHz processor and has support for LTE or HSPA+, depending on the carrier. The phone will be launched next month in the US, Canada, Europe and Asia. Obviously, you shouldn't wait for to be able to update Nexus S or other Android devices to ICS before the Galaxy Nexus launch.

Here's a video that showcases most of the Android ICS features, followed by a Galaxy Nexus ad:

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