The first phone to run Android 4.0, code named Ice Cream Sandwich the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which will start selling in November 2011. But the good news is that the SDK is available right now at the Android Developer web site. Here are the top features in the new operating system.
- New consistent look and feel. Designer Matias Duarte (former designer of WebOS) says “While people like and need Android, they didn’t love Android”. So he gave the user interface a top to bottom overhaul to make it “enchanting, easy, and powerful”. New widgets, new gestures, context sensitive action bars, more discoverable commands – these are just the tip of the iceberg. Anybody who had complained about Android not having the level of polish or usability as other mobile OS’s should give Android 4 fresh look.
- New system font. Android 4 sports a new type face called “Roboto” which was designed especially for high resolution screens like the one found on the Galaxy Nexus. By putting a new emphasis on typography, Duarte is taking a page from Steve Jobs who credited a college calligraphy class he audited for the great looking text on the Mac and iPhone. Roboto is part of a magazine-like look to many of the redesigned Android apps, which have “big bold pictures with giant headlines”.
- Screen shots. Hold down the power and volume down buttons to capture a screenshot of the currently running application. The picture will appear in your Gallery. I know this sounds like a minor thing, but it was sorely missed in stock Android.
- Home screen improvements. The Android home screen got a lot of love in Android 4. New features for phones include resizable widgets with stacks and scrolling for richer information at your fingertips. Other new features include the ability to create a folder by dragging one icon on top of another, and a customizable quick action bar at the bottom of the screen. You can press a button in any screen to see recent apps and swipe them to the side to close them. There’s nothing really revolutionary here, and influences from TouchWiz and iOS and other systems are obvious, but the combination of all the features and little refinements will make Android much more approachable to new users.
- Instant voice. In Android 2.x, 3.x, and iOS 5, you press a button to start recording, say what you have to say, and when you stop talking the phone sends the entire recording to the cloud. Servers in the cloud chew on it for a little while and then send the text or commands back to your phone. Android 4 gets rid of most of those delays with a cool feature called Instant Voice. Now you press the button and start talking and the text starts appearing while you are still talking.
There are dozens of other great features in Android 4 but those are my favorites. Others include improved notifications, better soft keyboard, face recognition to unlock (although that didn’t work so well during the demo), reading notifications from the lock screen, and more.