Ice Cream Sandwich, Google’s soon to be released confectionary-themed mobile operating system, was officially announced on Oct. 18. The cute nickname reveals the underlying principle for Android 4.0, to integrate Google’s phone and tablet interfaces. Android 2.3 Gingerbread and Android 3.0 Honeycomb are the latest versions of phone and tablet interfaces, respectively; what Ice Cream Sandwich will do is to merge the two into a scalable interface that will adjust itself depending on which device it is running on.
The updates in Ice Cream Sandwich are primarily usability-based, as the theme changes to a more streamlined design and unnecessary options are pruned to give way for better ones. The theme seems to primarily stem from the dark blue Honeycomb theme while incorporating the gray aspects from Gingerbread. The Launcher is now customizable, but you can no longer long-press on the Launcher home screen to add widgets, nor is there a menu option. Widgets are now stored as a tab in the Applications menu, both of which have a horizontally scrolling menu. Folder creation on the home screen is now much easier, allowing users to simply drag one application on top of another to create a new folder. These folders can now also be placed on the dock. In Launcher, the Google search bar is now permanent instead of simply existing as a widget.
Ice Cream Sandwich can be used on devices with or without physical buttons as the operating system has created digital ones to replace them – although in older phones the physical buttons will still work. These buttons will rotate along with the screen.
Some Google applications have been redesigned to fit with the new theme. Google+ and Google Reader have only been slightly tweaked, and the Music application has been leaked early to show some minimal upgrades. The YouTube application and Notification bar have added support for swiping gestures, Google Books has a 3D carousel, and Google Calendar has zoom features. The Camera application now provides quick previews that can export your pictures quickly, and the Gallery has new image modification tools and a shortcut to Gmail sharing. The Browser now has a save for offline feature and a new tab menu that allows easy scrolling between windows.
Two new applications Movie Studio and Google Beam, were announced with Ice Cream Sandwich. The Movie Studio is a video-editing tool. Google Beam works with NFC-capable devices to exchange information with a tap, sounding much like the Bump application for the iPhone and Android phones, although it also works with media such as applications, maps and YouTube videos.
Ice Cream Sandwich will hopefully be a well-integrated system by the time it releases. It promises to combine the tablet and phone interfaces in a clean and coherent manner. Some devices planned to receive the upgrade are the Asus Eee Pad Transformer (and its upcoming successor the Transformer Prime), the HTC Evo 3D, the LG Optimus 2X, from Motorola the Droid RAZR, Bionic and both Xoom tablets, and Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S and Galaxy SII Skyrocket. The release is scheduled for later this year.