This week, Google released a huge update to the Android platform which promises some notable improvements to the look and feel of the interface and which hopes to address the troubling problem of fragmentation of both tablets and smartphones alike. Gingerbread users can look for Ice Cream Sandwich to be available starting October 19 or when your wireless carrier deems you’re worthy enough to receive it. All told, Android 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) has over has 1200 changes from Android 3.2 (Honeycomb) and over 3200 changes since the Android 2.3.3 (Gingerbread). Here are the twenty most notable features we thought took center stage.
1. Complete redesign of the user interface
With the new interface, users can re-size widgets to make room for others or to dominate the home screen, a Windows-esque favorites tray on the bottom of the screen quick launch of contacts, apps and web pages.
2. Virtual buttons
Google has eliminated hard buttons for Home, back, menu and search, moving them onto the touchscreen. In addition, in likely response to Apple’s lock screen camera option, a camera button has been placed on the lock screen for Android as well.
3. Better organization and navigation
Thanks to a new tabbed home screen and the ability to navigate pages by swiping left-right on any screen, users can navigate to their favorite apps more easily. And like the iPhone, they can now create folders to organize liked apps together.
4. Face Unlock
Rather than swiping and inputting a code, ICS offers the option of unlocking via facial recognition. If your phone knows you, you’re in. If it doesn’t, you’re not. Nice feature if it works, but according to reports, it failed miserably during the announcement demo.
5. Screen shots with hard buttons
Android users have been requesting this feature for quite some time and now, like the iPhone, with ICS they can now take a screen shot by simultaneously pressing the power and home buttons. So, while iOS 5 can now take a picture using the volume button, ICS users get screen capture. I call that a fair trade.
6. Quick Response
Whether you’re in a meeting or driving, often you can’t take a call. Quick response let’s you send a pre-written text in response so whoever is calling knows you’re not ducking them. All you do is click on the little smiling speech bubble and select a response.
7. Data Usage View
This is a good one. Going into data usage, you can get a pie chart on how you’re using your data, as well as broken down by application. Users can even give themselves a data budget.
8. Expanded camera features
Not only can users share any pictures with third party apps that support Android PhotoShare, but there’s also native panorama capability, time-lapse video, and still shots while recording. Users can also zoom while recording video. Photo editing tools include red-eye removal, cropping, and other edits.
9. Social contact integration
This new app will collate all contact information over several social networks and input it into a single feed.
10. Android Beam
Based on near field communications technology, Android Beam will not only allow for purchases by phone, but also data sharing by pressing the Beam button.
11. Improved Keyboard
The keyboard is revamped for more accurate typing and offers better error correction and spell checker.
12. Better Cut/Copy/Paste
Based on Cut/Copy/Paste in Android 3 (Honeycomb), cut/copy/paste in ICS offers animated dragging and dropping.
13. Better Gmail
As if it needed any attention, Gmail has been upgraded with a new edit bar for compose, search, labels, and off line search going back 30 days.
14. New Calendar with pinch-to-zoom
Pinch and zoom allows users to focus on a set day or event.
15. Updated Google apps: YouTube, Maps, Google+, Google Music
16. Tabbed Internet browser
17. Better contact management
New tile-based “People app” interface for contacts, very similar to Windows Phone.
18. Speech to text entry has been improved
19. Visual Voicemail
Yet another Apple feature finally comes to the Bot with Visual Voicemail, which not only integrates messages, from the phne app, but also third-party apps which can add messages and other data to the voicemail inbox.
With Android 4, users who are disabled will have better accessibility features through TalkBack, including explore-by-touch with audible feedback and screen reader. Activated and setup with a simple touch gesture for all accessibility features.