Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich – Essentials You Need to Know [video]

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19 Oct, 2011 2:12 pm


Are you sitting comfortably? You should be, because this is a mega-post containing just about all you need to know about Ice Cream Sandwich!

Interestingly, the Samsung-Google announcement for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich was weighted very much toward talking about Ice Cream Sandwich. Perhaps that’s why all the Galaxy Nexus specs and videos were leaked out before the announcement…

(photo credit: Paul Bröker)

At any rate, there was a TON of information in this event about Ice Cream Sandwich, some new information that didn’t leak out, amazingly! Let’s break it down a little bit.

Matias Duarte, who formerly worked on both Palm webOS and RIM’s BlackBerry Playbook (sorry, don’t know why I thought that!) was the first to talk about Google’s new approach to Ice Cream Sandwich. He claimed polls showed while people appreciated Android’s power and versatility, they didn’t really “love” Android.

So Google reworked the UI and layout to be more magazine-like, more elegant. To that end, they created a new font called “Roboto” for Ice Cream Sandwich that looked clean, but not sterile, more inviting, more elegant.

(photo credit: Paul Bröker)

They also changed the UI layout to be a lot more magazine-like. In the many screens that they demoed, I felt it looked very similar to Windows Phone’s square tile layouts. Ice Cream Sandwich does seem to have a lot more polish. As you can see, there are on-screen buttons, very like Honeycomb.

The new People app shows your favorites in a very Windows Phone-like layout

Core apps, like Gmail and the calendar have very minimal, clean layouts:

(photo credit: Paul Bröker)

(photo credit: Paul Bröker)

Oh, and before we get to the meat of the story, can we just celebrate the fact that Ice Cream Sandwich now has built-in screen captures? Finally! Just press the power button and volume down buttons to snap a screenshot. Wow, was that so hard, Google?

But let’s move on to some of the new major features in Ice Cream Sandwich.

1. Updated lockscreen

There’s an easy way to unlock your phone directly into the camera app. This feature was previously available on certain phones, like those running HTC Sense, or 3rd-party apps that mimicked this ability, like Agile Lock, but now is standard on Ice Cream Sandwich.

There’s also a new Face Unlock feature that unfortunately didn’t work during the demo; it didn’t recognize Matias Duarte’s face! At least it didn’t accidentally unlock the phone, just reverted to the gesture password unlock method.

Face Unlock demo (photo credit: Paul Bröker)

Lastly, you can access your pending notifications by swiping down from the top of the lockscreen.

2. Updated notifications

(photo credit: Paul Bröker)

Speaking of notifications, you can now clear out notifications individually by swiping over them to the right (and left?), a lot like you can in webOS. Also, notifications can be richer, showing a person’s contact photo like an avatar to the side of a text message from them. App developers will be allowed to customize how their notifications appear in the drawer. The notification drawer will also have music controls available when music is playing in the background (also like webOS).

3. Honeycomb-like recent apps list and multitasking 

(photo credit: Paul Bröker)

There’s not too much new here if you are familiar with Honeycomb. The virtual button on the right brings up the recent apps list that you can scroll through. Once again, you can use a webOS-like swipe to the right to close apps and clean out your recent apps list.

4. Updated stock camera app

(photo credit: Paul Bröker)

As was leaked before, the camera app has been updated to include basic editing commands as well as photo filters. It’s also easy to share photos right after editing them in the stock camera app.

However, we didn’t see any mention of live “silly face” effects, similar to the Photobooth app in OS X:

And there’s also a built-in panorama mode that looks like it takes a video then stitches screen grabs into a panorama? This type of feature was available on the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and is present on other Android devices either thanks to manufacturers or 3rd-party developers, I’m sure.

The photo gallery app looks very magazine/print-like. It can be sorted by albums, by location, as well as by people tagged in photos. They didn’t go into too much detail about tagging people, but I assume this is manual tagging, like Facebook, not the auto tagging feature that iPhoto on OS X has.

(photo credit: Paul Bröker)

In addition, the video recording capability has been updated to support 1080p, zooming while recording, continuous focus, time lapse, and have a video snapshot feature. However, it’s possible that these are features specific to the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, not necessarily standard to Ice Cream Sandwich, not sure at this point.

5. Updated phone app

The phone app has been updated with the Honeycomb glowing blue color, and the slick Roboto font. If you swipe to the right, the middle tab contains recent calls, and the third tab over contains your contacts. Interestingly, voicemails are accessible right from the recent call list.

If you call someone, you’re greeted with a really elegant-looking screen:

(photo credit: Paul Bröker)

If you get an incoming call and want to dismiss it, you can use a swipe up gesture which opens a list of pre-populated text messages to explain why you didn’t answer the call right then:

The contacts app is now called the People app, and has a clean new look.

(photo credit: Paul Bröker)

When you drill down into a person’s info, you’ll see all their contact info, and can swipe to the right for their recent status updates. This kind of seems like MOTOBLUR.

(photo credit: Paul Bröker)

It was also mentioned that contact info is synced to the cloud, so if a person updates their phone number, e-mail, etc., those changes are synced to your device. It wasn’t really described in detail how this would happen, though.

6. Data usage monitoring, mobile data limits and warnings 

(photo credit: Paul Bröker)

This is kind of a big surprise, but definitely a welcome one. Right from your device settings menus, you can see your mobile data usage. The dotted line shows projected usage based on your current levels of data usage. You can even drill down and see just which apps are using a lot of data, and turn off background data access, forcing the apps to only access mobile data when you manually request it. And if you set a mobile data limit, you can configure warnings and hard caps.

7. Android Beam

Are you still reading? Good job! The last feature I wanted to outline is this interesting NFC-based feature called “Android beam”. Similar to the current Bump app in iOS and Android, you can touch two phones together to share different kinds of information. You have to touch the screen to confirm that you want to share something, so no need to worry about inadvertently sharing info.Currently you can share URLs, map information from Google Maps, YouTube videos, and most interestingly (IMO), links to Android apps.

In the live demo, one phone had the Minecraft Pocket app open, and the other phone didn’t have the app installed. When the two phones were touched together, the second phone opened the Android Market to the page for Minecraft Pocket. Pretty nifty. This functionality will have an API available to developers, so it’ll be interesting to see how they use it.

Speaking of which, the Ice Cream Sandwich is available to developers starting today, Oct. 18, so if you’re interested in checking out all of the new features, feel free to hit up the Android developer site here.

If you want to watch the Ice Cream Sandwich portion of the Samsung-Google announcement, you can do that below:

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