Google unveils Android 4.0 ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’

During a press event in Hong Kong on Tuesday, Google officially took the wraps off of its latest Android operating system dubbed “Ice Cream Sandwich,” alongside the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Android 4.0 combines several of the features already available in the tablet-focused Android 3.x (Honeycomb) OS with the smartphone features available in Android 2.3 (Gingerbread). It will power both tablets and smartphones, and it offers several enhancements. For example, users can unlock an Ice Cream Sandwich device using face recognition. Android 4.0 also has a new cleaner “Roboto” typeface and an extensive UI makeover. Read on for more.

The lock screen in Android 4.0 can be used to quickly unlock the phone or launch the camera, and users can also access notifications directly. “Back,” “Home” and “Menu” are now part of the Android virtual user interface and hardware buttons are no longer needed. Button presses have been replaced in many cases by gestures, too. Users can add revamped and resizable widgets, similar to those available on Android 3.x (Honeycomb). Just like in iOS, users can drag icons on top of one another to create folders on the desktop. Ice Cream Sandwich also adds native screenshot capturing; users simply have to hold the home button and tap the volume-down key. The keyboard has improved error correction, better suggestions and an in-line spellchecker, and cut/copy/paste is now also consistent throughout Android 4.0.

Android 4.0 has a new tab management system in the Web browser. Users can keep up to 16 tabs open, view a live preview of each and quickly switch between them. Tabs can be closed by flicking them off of the screen much like webOS or RIM’s tablet OS. Google also automatically syncs bookmarks to your Android browser from Chrome, and users can save pages for offline reading. Gmail has been updated with two-line previews, an action bar for quickly composing a message, searching and more. Finally, Google has added offline search to Gmail in Android 4.0, and YouTube, Maps, Music and Google+ have also been updated.

Ice Cream Sandwich will also provide users with monthly data usage figures, complete with warnings for when a user surpasses a certain data allotment. It can automatically cut off all mobile data should you pass the cap, too.

The camera application offers a revamped sharing UI for quickly sending photos to social networks, and the camera has zero shutter lag. Ice Cream Sandwich also comes equipped with photo editing tools tools for removing red eye, cropping and more. The photo album has a new “magazine style” layout that can be organized by people, geotagged locations or by album.

A new “People” application pulls in contact information and photos from social networks for your whole address book. Whenever a contact updates his or her info, it is also automatically updated on your phone. Any social network can access the new People app using Google’s Android 4.0 APIs, and contacts are easily accessible from a fully revamped phone application.

The Galaxy Nexus is the first Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich phone and the SDK is available now for all Android developers.

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