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On Tuesday night, at an event in Hong Kong, Google unveiled the newest version of its Android operating system. Android 4.0, dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich, is perhaps the most important Android release ever.
Not only does it merge Android 2.x, which is used on mobile phones, with Android 3.x, which was designed for tablets, Google clearly aimed to make Ice Cream Sandwich more than just another major release.
Its apparent goal: reshape Android, making the entire interface and experience, oft-criticized, much, much tastier for mainstream consumers and hardcore mobile enthusiasts alike.
Will Google succeed, perhaps helping it compete against iOS and the iPhone? Here's what folks are saying.
Google's Ice Cream Sandwich OS adds dozens of new features. But so far, I haven't heard of it addressing Android's most pressing problems: the fragmentation of versions and the horrible discovery problems in the Android Market, which have prevented Android tablets from selling.
Ice Cream Sandwich looks great. So when can we get it, how can we find apps for it, and how can app developers address the widest variety of Android devices easily? That's what Google needs to answer clearly and concisely.
Ice Cream Sandwich is billed as Google’s unified mobile OS, working the same way on both tablets and smartphones. So far, though, what that means (as Google’s Hugo Berra wrote after Google I/O this summer) is that “Ice Cream Sandwich will bring everything you love about Honeycomb on your tablet to your phone.”
It’s about making the phone experience bigger, more interactive, more capable. It’s about making the phone literally bigger — the Galaxy Nexus has a 4.65″, 1280 by 720 pixel screen, which while not unprecedented, is still really big for a smartphone, and way bigger than the 3.7″ Nexus One screen.
There was a glaring omission at the Samsung/Google event last night: Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) was not shown on a tablet device. This omission was purposeful, because ICS will not thrust Android-powered tablets into a head-to-head competition with the iPad, and because we have seen ICS on tablets already. One could name this latest release Honeycomb 2.0 for tablet devices. Apple is not afraid of the what was announced last night, nor is it even paying attention when it comes to the iPad 2 losing market share.
It’s the first time I’ve used Android and felt that Google has stepped anywhere near that truly fine balance between power, flexibility, usability, and good ol’ fashion beauty. Android has always been powerful — it just never really looked all that good doing it. Ice Cream Sandwich looks good. Really good.
It's said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but at times it's also a business necessity. We pointed out when Apple borrowed from rival OSes in iOS 5, and Android 4.0 is no different. From iOS, it takes screenshots and folders. From Windows Phone, it takes many design elements, like the People and dialing setup in particular. From WebOS, there are the flicking-away gesture and the communication between two devices in the same ecosystem. The ability to drag the lock screen button over icons to open an app from the locked position comes directly from HTC Sense 3.0.
We're not necessarily saying it's a bad thing--this kind of building-on-the-shoulders-of-giants happens all the time--but it's always a good idea to trace the influences lest we give the Android engineers credit for some other company's first-to-market effort.