Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich unveiled
On October 19th, 2011, Android’s latest update called Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) was unveiled in Hong Kong at an event jointly hosted by Google and Samsung. ICS is version 4.0 of the Android operating system. I went through the launch video and realized most of the visual and user experience updates are clearly, ahem, inspired by Windows Phone and its Metro design principles. Here is a rundown of some of the key announcements from a Windows Phone user’s perspective.
Ice Cream Sandwich: Design principles
Matias Duarte, the head of Android User Experience, introduced the concept of uniform design as it applied to Android. The new design starts with a new, system-wide font called Roboto. The styling will have big, bold pictures with giant headlines instead of just a list of icons, per Duarte. He added that everything in Android will show plenty of white space and eliminate lines and boxes and other such unnecessary decorations.
As Windows Phone users may know very well by now, all these points are straight out of the Metro Design Language playbook. At //build/ Microsoft showed how these principles are going to be made part of Windows 8 as well. The upcoming Fall Xbox dashboard update is also going to have a Metro design. This imitation by Google provides further justification and validation of the choice Microsoft has made in getting Metro on all their platforms.
Ice Cream Sandwich: Key new features
A detailed list of the new features in Android 4.0 are on the Android Developers site. Some of the key features highlighted in the video were:
- Lock screen: The big change here as it relates to Windows Phone is that the lock screen has the big time indicator and clean, uncluttered interface. The screen looks very Metro undoubtedly.
Ice Cream Sandwich Lock Screen
- Browser: The browser in ICS introduces saving entire pages for offline use, includes Chrome bookmark sync, and an Incognito mode. None of these features are available in Windows Phone yet and these would be nice to have in a modern mobile operating system.
- Mail and Calendar: Gmail introduces offline search capability. In Calendar, one can now pinch to zoom in order to see different timespans in the calendar. This ability is actually quite smart, instead of the standard day/week/month views that typical calendars provide. This is especially useful on phones where screen real estate is at a premium.
- Photos: Just like iOS5, ICS has copied one of Windows Phone’s cool features, what Microsoft calls Pocket to Picture. The Camera app in ICS can now take a picture from the lock screen. Also, like Windows Phone does, ICS allows instant sharing to multiple providers. A key win for Microsoft? Facebook sharing capability natively from the Pictures hub or the camera app. ICS also adds photo editing on the camera. Windows Phone introduced Auto Fixwith Mango but clearly, Microsoft has some catch up to do in this area. That is also perhaps where the dual cores in Android phones may actually be put to use. As Andy Lees has said, Windows Phone with single core devices can actually go head-to-head very capably with dual core Android phones. I suspect if Windows Phone had photo and/or video editing, that claim would not hold true.
Camera from the lock screen
- Videos: ICS now supports 1080p video recording, continuous focus, zoom while recording, video snapshots, and time lapse recording. None of these features are currently supported in Windows Phone. While 1080p recording would be great to have, it is arguable what benefit it would provide especially video shot on a mobile phone. The other features are cool and would be welcome additions to Windows Phone.
- People App: The new People app in ICS is clearly a copy of the single-biggest feature in Windows Phone, the aggregation of all your contacts into a single hub (People Hub). The Windows Phone People Hub enables you to see all your interactions with your contacts in one place regardless of how you are connected to them address book in the cloud, Twitter, Facebook, Windows Live, LinkedIn, etc. The ICS People app aims to do exactly that, and further, it also takes the concept of Metile from Windows Phone and applies it to the People App for all things about Me.
Contact across networks no Facebook
- Other: Another cool feature I saw in the introduction video was voice mail speed adjustment. This one is clearly in the bells-and-whistlescategory but certainly useful if you tend to receive long and boring voice mails. A fuller rundown of everything ICS is covered elsewhere on Techie-Buzz.
Speed up voice mail
So ICS is a big step forward for Android in terms of its user interface and user interaction/experience, but for Windows Phone users like me, it is somewhere between mehand oh we already enjoy all of that beauty. An evolutionary iPhone 4s, problematic deployment of and a somewhat buggy iOS5, a less-than-sensational Android 4.0, a floundering RIM, a stunning turnaround in deployment of Windows Phone updates in the form of Mango rollout, and a slew of upcoming Nokia devices. All those things, combined with Samsung and HTC providing additional marketing funds to promote Windows Phone, means it is all coming together for Windows Phone to strike this holiday season and assert itself as the clear #3 platform.
The important question is, will customers buy?