Tonight, Google unveiled the long-awaited Samsung Galaxy Nexus. While the phone itself is an amazing piece of technology, the underlying software is really what makes the phone unique among the latest flagship devices that have hit the markets over the past month or two. After Samsung took a few minutes to talk about the new Samsung Galaxy Nexus and its hardware, Google took the stage to talk about Android 4.0 and its many features and improvements.
Google realizes that consumers recognize Android is extremely powerful but frustrating at the same time. People like their Android phones, but not many people love them. Google highlighted that their focus for Ice Cream Sandwich was to make the UI “enchanting, beautiful and seductive.”
In order to achieve that goal, Google has gone back to the drawing board and completely revamped the UI and improved Android’s multi-tasking capabilities and cloud integration. They also added new features like facial recognition and Face Unlock.
Google highlighted that their focus for Ice Cream Sandwich was to make the UI of Android “enchanting, beautiful and seductive.”
The first thing to change within Android 4.0 was the type face. Google created a new font named Roboto, which was designed from the ground up for high definitions displays. The font is used throughout the operating system and gives Android a much cleaner look.
Next on the list of improvements is the device lock screen. Ice Cream Sandwich features a lock screen that should look very familiar to anyone who has used Honeycomb. To unlock the device, drag the circle to the right or to the left to launch directly into the camera application. Face Unlock does exactly what its name implies. Users can now use Android 4.0’s facial recognition functionality to unlock the device by simply holding the front-facing camera up to their face.
Once the device is unlocked, the new UI of Android 4.0 comes into full focus. As we’ve been expecting for months, ICS now includes the standard hardware buttons within the UI at the bottom of the screen. This allows the buttons to rotate with the screen and also completely disappear while watching video. The home screen changes include the ability to create folders or shortcut groupings by dragging icons on top of each other. Folders can even be docked on the quick launcher at the bottom of the home screen.
Widgets within Android 4.0 have a few upgrades as well. Google has added scrolling, flipping and widget resizing to the native functionality. Just like Honeycomb, widgets are now stores within the application drawer under the widgets tab. Just drag and drop a widget to the home screen and change its size to fit your needs.
In order to improve consistency throughout the OS, Google is now relying on swiping gestures to move between screen, contacts, pictures and different pages within applications. The swiping gesture is also present in the new multitasking function on ICS. Tapping the multi-tasking button on the home screen reveals all the running application on the device. While Android can handle keeping multiple apps chugging along in the background, you can manually discard or close application by swiping the app off the screen to the right.
This same gesture feature has been added to notifications. Rather than clicking on a notification to clear it from the list, just swipe it off the screen and watch it disappear. But that’s not the end of the updates to notifications. Google decided it would be a good idea if users could access notifications without having to unlock the phone. Pull down the notifications bar from the lock screen and then jump right into an application by selecting a notification.
As we reported earlier today, Android 4.0 will feature native screenshot support. To save an image of your screen, press the Power and volume down keys at the same time and a high resolution .png file will be saved to your image gallery.
The software keyboard within ICS has been dramatically improved over previous iterations. The keyboard is more responsive and accurate with better error correction and inline spellcheck. Google has also beefed up Android Copy & Paste functionality by adding Drag & Drop to move words around if you’re working within an email or sending a text.
Talk to Type has been available for nearly two years and now is able to instantly transcribe your voice as you talk rather than waiting for you to pause or finish your sentence. This new change allows for smoother transcriptions and makes it easier for the user to use Talk to Type for longer messages without having to press the button multiple times.
In addition to changing the core Android UI, Google has revisited all the Android applications to bring consistency to the platform. The browser has a revamped tab layout which works similarly to the multitasking function of the OS. Users can have up to 16 tabs open at a time and can easily close them by swiping them off the screen. The browser also allows users to have entire pages for offline viewing, desktop Chrome bookmark syncing and Chrome’s infamous incognito mode.
Google has revisited the Gmail application with Android 4.0 with the intent to “build the best mobile experience you can find anywhere, period.” In order to do that, Google has added two line message previews so you can get a short glimpse of your messages without opening them. A new action bar at the bottom of the screen highlights your labels, search and contextual functions based on where you are within the app. To switch between emails, simply swipe left or right rather than using the back button to return to your inbox. And to top things off, Gmail now supports offline email search, which indexes all your emails for the past thirty days.
The calendar application within Android has gotten a few tweaks as well. The UI has been cleaned up, making it extremely readable. Swipe between days, weeks or months with a simply flick or view more details in a calendar entry with pinch-to-zoom functionality.
One of the new features to Android 4.0 is the new Data Usage monitor, which tracks all applications on your device that consume data. Data Usage keeps track of which applications use the most data (similar to the battery Usage monitor currently present within Android) and can manipulate the graph and pinpoint data use within a specific time frame. In addition to tracking data, the monitor can also project future data use, alert users if they’re reaching a certain preset threshold or actively cut off data consumption on the device in order to avoid overage charges from carriers.
The camera app within ICS has gotten a complete overhaul. Snapping pictures is as simple as ever and sharing them is only one click away. New camera features include an on-screen slide zoom bar, autoset exposure, facial recognition and a panorama feature. To take a panoramic picture just touch the icon and the shutter to start, let the tracker on the screen guide you through one smooth, continual motion and the final result in automatically generated. Video recording capabilities include 1080p capture, continuous focus, time lapse and video snapshots, which can be captured while recoding a video by simply tapping the screen.
The new Android gallery application puts more focus on your picture with a magazine style layout. The gallery supports traditional albums, but thanks to geo tagging and facial recognition, it also generates albums based on people and different locations. The gallery also includes new photo editing features that give users the ability to apply “hipster filters,” adjust image angles, crop and even remove red-eye. All image edits are saved as a copy; you can always revert to the original.
The contacts application within Android has been replaced with a more advanced People app. Contact cards have evolved, adding high resolution pictures of your contacts and importing contact details from multiple sources (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), which update automatically through the cloud. Google is using a new open API that they’re making available to developers and can be used to feed details into contact cards.
The new dialer application shows off high-resolution images of your contacts. It takes up most of the screen. New features include an automatic SMS response to contacts if you don’t want to answer their call. Simply swipe up on the dialer and your phone will send them a canned SMS (which you can control) to let them know you can’t take their call at the moment.
If they decide to leave you a voicemail, you’ll be able to access your visual voicemail directly within the dialer call log where they belong. The visual voicemail functionality even allows you to speed up or slow down the voicemail playback.
Last year, Google introduced NFC support to Android on the Nexus S. This year, Google is giving manufacturers a real reason to include an NFC chip in their new phones. NFC functionality within Android 4.0 now allows users to quickly share content between two phones by simply holding them together. The demonstrations Google showed highlighted website sharing, Google Maps sharing and contact card sharing. Users will even have the ability to share application (sharing the link to the app on the Android Market) or set up multi-play games, group chats and much more.
This was just a quick overview of what Google showed off at the Samsung Galaxy Nexus unveiling today. We’ll be digging through the Android 4.0 SDK (now available for you to download) and will be bringing you a more in-depth look at many of the features we’ve highlighted.
Though there’s a lot of information to digest, feel free to share your thoughts on Android 4.0 and all the new features Google packed inside. Which new Ice Cream Sandwich feature are you looking forward to the most?