Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) is the only update that hasn’t actually been released as of the time this writing, but Google did hold a launch event demonstrating new features and capabilities in Android 4. ICS will initially be available on the recently announced Samsung Galaxy Nexus, with updates proceeding to other eligible devices at a later date. Presumably Google will follow its policy of updating devices released by partners over the last 18 months.
It seems like we’ve been hearing rumors about ICS since the dawn of time, but it hasn’t been quite that long. Reportedly the major benefit of ICS was the unification of the phone and tablet form factors, but the absence of a tablet demo to this point has been frustrating. The UI sports a lot of elements that will look very familiar to users of Honeycomb (Android 3.x) tablets. The three buttons that are always on display at the bottom of the screen, the app switcher, and even the neon glow around the UI bits are almost identical to Honeycomb. Those of you looking for better ways to organize your home screens will love folders and resizable widgets.
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Messaging and Social Networks
Smartphones are all about communication, and Ice Cream Sandwich reinforces that. Google+ is an integral part of ICS, in much the same way Gmail or Google Voice have been. As Google’s central social networking service, Google+ is going to provide key communication capabilities, such as chat and video calling via Google+ Hangouts.
Undoubtedly the most innovative new feature in ICS, Beam uses Near Field Communication (NFC) to transfer images, contacts, or links between devices simply by touching them together. Beam will require a device that includes NFC hardware. NFC is the same technology that powers Google Wallet, and will become much more prevalent in the coming months.
Camera and Imaging
Camera use was a major area of (ahem) focus at Google’s ICS event. From the start, ICS helps you catch that perfect image by offering a shortcut to the camera app directly from the unlock screen.
The camera app itself has been reworked and provides many upgrades such as continuous focus and zero shutter lag, both of which will help you capture better images using your phone’s camera. Panoramic images are incredibly simple with ICS as well. Simply snap an image, sweep the camera slowly across the area you want to capture, and Ice Cream Sandwich will stitch the images together to make a panorama.
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The Gallery app has also been updated in a big way, offering impressive image editing opportunities out of the box. Once your image is perfect, ICS provides an avenue for you to share your image to different social networks or photo sharing sites, as well as using email or Bluetooth.
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Google also provides some other innovative uses of technology that can make your life easier. Face Unlock allows you to use the front-facing camera on your device for facial recognition to unlock your device, instead of a pin or swipe pattern. Quick Responses let you respond to an incoming phone call using predefined text messages, a terribly handy solution for anyone who has received an inopportune phone call during an important meeting. ICS makes the problem of monitoring and managing your metered data usage much more intuitive. Using the included tools you can determine when and why spikes in data usage are occurring, and define how individual apps are allowed to use your data.