Google have revealed the successor to the Gingerbread and Honeycomb builds of their Android OS. Android 4.0 (AKA Ice Cream Sandwich), was billed as the version of the search giant’s operating system that would bridge the gap between tablet and smartphone interfaces.
Revealed last night at a Hong Kong press conference alongside the Samsung Galaxy Nexus (the first handset to feature the OS) we take a look at the new features headed to Android devices near you very, very soon. Can it, as Google hope, “enchant you, simplifiy your life and make you awesome” ?
The first big bit of news to come out of the conference was that Android 4.0 will be using a brand new typeface called Roboto. This may not sound like groundbreaking stuff, and tech-wise it isn’t, but when you consider just how much reading you’re likely to do on your phone, a legible, comfortable font can make all the difference. And anything that references this just has to be amazing.
Ice Cream Sandwich will now offer a host of context sensitive buttons too. Depending on the app you’re in, you’ll be able to access other related parts of the phone, like contacts or the dialler, just by hitting a small button that will appear on screen.
Multi-Tasking and Notifications
Two areas that get a big overhaul are multi-tasking and notifications. In terms of multi-tasking, it’s now much easier to spot the apps you’ve been using most recently, and it’s just as easy to free up some precious mobile memory by closing the unwanted apps with a flick of a finger. The same goes for notifications; you don’t even have to open a notification to flick away and close an individual one.
This feature got the geek in Tech Digest glowing with excitement. Forget crusty old lock screens, Ice Cream Sandwich is taking the facial recognition route. By simply holding your phone in front of your face, Ice Cream Sandwich can recognise who’s trying to access its innards, and who to lock out. It’s not a new concept (plenty of laptops offer similar security procedures) but Google promise to have nailed its accuracy.
While it’s a shame that the first Ice Cream Sandwich handset, the Galaxy Nexus, only manages to squeeze in a 5MP camera, at least the UI around it will be much improved. Google have worked alongside Samsung to give new Android devices a much more intuitive snapping interface, that allows for picture-stitching panorama shots and Instagram-style filters to be applied.
The Galaxy Nexus in particular will also boast 1080p video recording and zero-shutter lag, making it a capable snapper, even if its resolution can’t quite match the likes of the iPhone 4S.
Plenty of companies have tried the “one-app-to-rule-all-social-networks” approach (our particular favourite being the FriendStream feature of HTC’s Sense UI). Now Google are introducing the People App to do a similar thing, bringing social network feeds like Twitter and Facebook amongst others all into one single, easily browseable space.
Not massive amounts of news here, but the ability to have 16 tabs open simultaneously is a welcome one, as is the news that copy and paste functionality is improved, data logging notifications are more obvious, and screenshots are easier to take now by holding down the power and volume buttons together.
New NFC features
Google are investing heavily in NFC tech, seeing it as a major part of the future of mobile technology. We’ve already seen their plans for the Google Wallet NFC payment system, and now they’re adding an NFC-based app called Android Bump into the mix. It allows two NFC-enabled, Android Ice Cream Sandwich devices to share all manner of information (contacts, website favourites, maps and the ability to open competitive games) just by merely touching the two gadgets together.
So there you have it, the latest build of Android. It’s looking pretty feature-rich, and there’s certainly plenty of sci-fi wizardry packed in to raise a geeky smile, especially that facial recognition stuff. But with the first phone set to feature the OS seemingly certain to have a whopping price tag, it may be worth waiting for the next line of cheaper Android superphones before investing in a new blower with the Android update.