Android 4.0's Five Best New Features for Users

Android 4.0's Five Best New Features for Users

Summary: The new Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, looks great at first sight and it should make both Android smartphone and tablet users happier.


Welcome to Android 4: Ice Cream Sandwich

Welcome to Android 4: Ice Cream Sandwich

Silly name aside, Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), is perhaps the most important Android release to date. With this release, Google has brought its tablet Android fork, 3.x, back into sync with its smartphone trunk, 2.x. In addition, all of ICS will soon, as I understand it, be made open source.

What that means for you is that independent software vendors (ISV)s can stop wasting time in developing two different versions of programs and focus their energies on making the best possible Android applications. Since, at the end of the day, the success of any operating system is all about its applications, this bodes well for Android.

Like Google told its developers, "Android 4.0 is a major platform release that adds a variety of new features for users and app developers. Besides all the new features and APIs [application programming interfaces] discussed below, Android 4.0 is an important platform release because it brings the extensive set of APIs and Holographic themes from Android 3.x to smaller screens. As an app developer, you now have a single platform and unified API framework that enables you to develop and publish your application with a single APK that provides an optimized user experience for handsets, tablets, and more, when running the same version of Android-Android 4.0 (API level 14) or greater."

Don't get too excited about Android 4 quite yet though. While Android 4 has lots of good features--the most important of which I'm going to talk about here--it's also not going to be available for most of you on your existing smartphones and tablets.

Ten great Android 4 features (screenshots)

Curiously enough, Google doesn't spell out anywhere exactly what the hardware requirements are for Android 4. What we do know is that it will run on the new Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the ICS launch device. This new smartphone comes with a 1.2GHz dual-core TI OMAP4 CPU, front and rear-facing cameras and 1GB of RAM. It also includes Bluetooth, 802.11n Wi-Fi, and NFC (Near Field Communications). This device will start shipping in November.

But will you need a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor and a gig of RAM to run ICS? Good question. To get the full Android 4 experience, I think you will need at least that much in the way of hardware resources. According to Google's Director of Android operating system User Experience, Matias Duarte, ICS "theoretically should work for any 2.3 device."

That's all well and good, but I'm not holding my breath that Verizon will be upgrading my Motorola Droid 2 to ICS anytime soon, or ever, for that matter. Besides, even if they did, can my hardware support NFC? Nope, so I wouldn't be able to trade data with a buddy by bringing my phone next to his anyway. If you really want to get ICS, and certainly to get the most from it, you're going to need a new smartphone or tablet.

So what will you get from ICS? Well for my money, here are the top features.

Page 2: [Ice Cream Sandwich's Best] »

Ice Cream Sandwich's Best

1) Better, more universal, interface

Some people, and I'm one of them, aren't crazy that every vendor's version of Android looks and works differently. It's annoying to re-learn how the basics work every time I switch from one manufacturer's device to another. In ICS, the physical back, home, search, and menu buttons have been replaced by virtual buttons that appear at the bottom of the screen in the System bar and you can always navigate instantly to Back, Home, and Recent Apps. Contextual options for the app you're running in the foreground are always in the Action Bar at the top of the screen.

Android 3.1's scrollable multitasking interface shows up in ICS and it comes with a persistent soft button. A related and neat feature is that you can close an application by swiping its thumbnail off the screen.

The new Android also automatically enables you to drag one app icon on the home-screen onto another to automatically create folders. This makes organizing your interface much easier. I confess I've envied iPhone and iPad users this feature for a long time and I'm glad to see it finally make it to Android.

ICS also comes with Android the easy-to-read "Roboto" font. Of course, while vendors will still make their own tweaks, the over-all effect seems to me to lead to an improved and more consistent interface.

You don't have to take my word for it, see it for yourself in Unwrapping Google Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0, ZDNet's ICS photo tour.

2) Better applications.

ICS has more than just developer unification going for it. ICS includes many APIs that are going to lead to some very handy applications. For example, the new universal social networking API will soon lead to better social networking applications no matter whether your favorite social network is Facebook, Google+, or Twitter.

Some nifty applications are already built-in. For instance, the People app. is a universal address book that collects not just your usual e-mail addresses and phone contact lists, but can also add in your social network contacts. The camera user-interface, which has also been a weak spot in Android as far as I'm concerned, has also been greatly improved.

Another kind of application that any business user is going to welcome with open arms is that Android finally makes it easy to use virtual private network (VPN)s. In addition, ICS comes with standard VPN client that supports the Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) and Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) IPSec protocols.

3) Speech transcription.

OK, it's not Apple iPhone 4s' Siri voice-powered assistant, but voice transcription is done in real-time with surprisingly little latency. While I haven't used it myself, all the demos I've seen of it are very impressive.

Looking ahead I can see some bright developers creating their own version of Siri using ICS' voice to text feature. It's only a matter of time. I look forward to the day when I can say "Earl Grey, Hot." to my phone and, if it can't make it, it can at least point me to the nearest coffee shop that also brews a decent cup of tea.

4) Better and faster Web browsing

While Google hasn't brought its Chrome Web browser over to Android yet, there is a lot of Chrome goodness in Android's built-in Web browser.

The Android Browser is built around updated versions of WebKit core and the V8 Crankshaft JavaScript engine. Google claims that, "In benchmarks run on a Nexus S device, the Android 4.0 browser showed an improvement of nearly 220% over the Android 2.3 browser in the V8 Benchmark Suite and more than 35% in the SunSpider 9.1 JavaScript Benchmark. When run on a Galaxy Nexus device, the Android 4.0 browser showed improvement of nearly 550% in the V8 benchmark and nearly 70% in the SunSpider benchmark." That wicked fast compared to where it once was.

On top of that you can now sync the ICS native browser with Google Chrome bookmarks. You also can set options so that you always get the full "desktop" versions of your favorite Web sites, rather than their mobile versions. There are many other minor improvements; the net effect is to make Web browsing much nicer.

5) Data use monitoring

OK, it's certainly not sexy, but with every phone company in the world adding some kind of restrictions to your data subscription, knowing exactly how much data you have left before you run out of "free" time or bandwidth is becoming a necessity. You can also use this tool to see what applications are sucking down your data allowance. I can already tell you that you'll be surprised to see some programs using the net when you think your phone is sitting there idly.

Put it all together and what do you get? I think you get not just the best Android ever, I think you get the best mobile operating system of them all to date.

Related Stories:

Top 10 features in Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)

Android 4.0 and Samsung Galaxy Nexus unveiled: 5 surprises

Unwrapping Google Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 Photo Gallery

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is enchanting, easy, and makes you feel special

Android 4.0: The stakes for Google are huge

Topics: Collaboration, Browser, Tablets, Smartphones, Networking, Mobility, Laptops, Hardware, Google, Social Enterprise

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  • RE: Android 4.0's Five Best New Features for Users

    ICS doesn't add anything to Android. Mango for the win!!!!!
    • RE: Android 4.0's Five Best New Features for Users


      Manjo is too character limited.
      Too many characters and your keyboard disappears.
      • When you spend 200$ on an ICS

        ... and 150 of it goes to MSFT for patent settlement, you might as well just buy a legitimate WinPhone device to get your money worth.
    • RE: Android 4.0's Five Best New Features for Users

      @jatbains Hey check this asus latest tab: it's also running on android 4.0 too and its awesome... Is this tablet can beat the iPad 2..
  • I guess I can't use it

    But, Steve Ballmer said I have to be a computer scientist to use Android, and since I'm not a computer scientist, I guess I won't be able to use ICS. (Of course, I guess this also means I can't use the Froyo phone that I've owned for the last few months, either.)

    In all seriousness, I just hope moving to ICS won't cause Froyo and Gingerbread to be incompatible with apps anytime soon (a Gingerbread update is supposed to be coming sometime for my phone, but I don't know when). I hope to hold on to my phone for a while, but if 1 Ghz processor and 512 MB memory isn't enough for ICS, then I could be in trouble if they drop app support for the 2.x series.
    • RE: Android 4.0's Five Best New Features for Users


      hey, the flip side of Balmer's comment is that if you are already using Andoird, that means you're a computer scientist! Congrats, you're now a Microsoft Certified computer scientist.
  • RE: Android 4.0's Five Best New Features for Users

    Seriously? The best 5 features of the latest version of Android are:
    1) A little UI polish & the ability to better organize my grid of icons?
    2) Better apps? That's not a feature of the OS - that's what you hope will start to arrive as dev's improve their apps.
    3) Speech Transcription
    4) Slightly improved browser
    5) A data use monitoring app

    That's it? What the heck is all the noise about then?
    • RE: Android 4.0's Five Best New Features for Users

      Because you don't like android, you are of course downplaying the mentioned features and left many of the most significant out. If the same features were announced with windows phone, you would be trumpeting all the brilliant new features.
      Also people are making noise about the 1280x720 screen on the nexus for good reason. I know - who cares (since its droid based). To be fair, I'd be doing the same if this came from microsoft.
      • RE: Android 4.0's Five Best New Features for Users

        @willyampz come on my friend android is nearly 5 years old and windows phone just 1 and i think in following 1 or 2 years windows phone will catch android and ios
      • RE: Android 4.0's Five Best New Features for Users

        @willyampz - I make no secret that I am a fan of Windows Phone, but c'mon, seriously. If this is all Mango had delivered, I'd have been horribly disappointed.

        If this list represents the best features of ICS, then one has to wonder what's going on at Google. After 6 years, all they've managed to do is provide a reasonable copy of iOS. There is, to be fair, little unique thinking behind 'Droid - it's primary motivation appears to be "copy iOS" and more recently "copy WinPhone".

        A 1280x720 screen isn't an innovation or new "feature" - it's just a higher resolution screen. While it may be pretty to look at, it doesn't change the way in which the user interacts with their phone, doesn't allow them to do things they were previously unable to do. Doesn't move the goalposts one iota.
      • RE: Android 4.0's Five Best New Features for Users


        <i>"A 1280x720 screen isn't an innovation or new "feature" - it's just a higher resolution screen."</i>

        Good point.

        <i>"When you start playing the speeds and feeds game on a phone you stop innovating on the software."

        -- Brandon Watson</i>

        I couldn't believe that they opened with "Roboto". Was that a joke? Then, ironically, today I'm reading about how Nokia will have their own font on their Windows Phones. Seriously?

        The killer hardware feature I'd love to see is some exotic chemistry that causes a breakthrough in battery life (say double).

        The gimmicky hardware feature I'd love to see is a microphone array capable of picking your voice -- or perhaps a speaker (song recognition) -- out of a noisy environment.

        I will settle for a decent camera and something that I can operate deftly with one hand (HD7 is too big for me).
        Rich Miles
      • RE: Android 4.0's Five Best New Features for Users

        @mkkrmt "come on my friend android is nearly 5 years old and windows phone just 1 and i think in following 1 or 2 years windows phone will catch android and ios"

        The OS in Android is over 25 years old
        The OS in Windows Phone is over 16 years old
        The OS in iOS is over 11 years old

        The Android project is 5 years old but actually Android as product it is just 2 years old.
        Windows Phone project is over decade old, but the actually Windows Phone product is over year old.

        Microsoft did not pull a new OS and new middleware and other functions to Windows Phone from thin air. They recycled their existing technologies and reformed a "Windows Phone" (with stupid name first and then even changing it to even stupider) what is just so stupid as every phone using Windows Phone needs to be talked like retard jittering words "Windows Phone Ph... pho.. phone"

        In following 1-2 years, what will change as Windows Phone has not succeeded in 9-10 months what Android did in few weeks/months? Android has not grown in 5 years, it did it under 2 years. It had less manufacturers, very less advertisings and even the features were much better at the start and there was much bigger competitor to challenge. Now for Windows Phone everything is much easier, but still no rapid success, no nice talks than Nokia and Microsoft talking how amazing and great the Windows Phone is.
      • RE: Android 4.0's Five Best New Features for Users

        @Rich Miles
        "The killer hardware feature I'd love to see is some exotic chemistry that causes a breakthrough in battery life (say double)."

        I am waiting that as well. How about someone would bring a 3.5-4" model of phone what is not 7.x or 9.x mm thin but more closely 2cm or even 2.5cm but offers 12h continues usage with full brightness or 3 week uptime?
        A such phone would still fit to pocket and it would actually be great as in few days you could keep phone without recharge and still use many hours per day.

        And I don't mind the big screen, as smartphone is about the other usage than talking. It is for writing and watching. So give me just a bluetooth dongle what I can use for calling and then in car or office/home for hands free situations.

        We managed to carry 15 years ago those Nokia 5110 kind phones, few years before that the huge NMT phones. Weights were much bigger and still they fitted most womens purse or were possible to keep in pocket.

        And now suddenly every manufacturer is doing about 7mm thin phones what battery life is counted in minutes if using full network (4G) speeds.

        Even growing batterysize 2 times would be huge difference. No longer 1500mAh but 3000mAh. We could even go up to 5000mAh with technology what is used in smart phones.
    • RE: Android 4.0's Five Best New Features for Users

      Better than iOS 5, no contest. Words on a screen don't do it justice.
    • RE: Android 4.0's Five Best New Features for Users

      @bitcrazed Android is not a operating system, it is a software system whats operating system is Linux (aka Linux kernel).
      The list of these 5 things is not actually the key things for end users, they are for developers. The point in the term "platform" is that Google only offers a plate, on what everyone else builds their dinner. No fancy things, no closed functions etc.

      The keyword is "Partners", "Developers" and "Users". It is their possibility, task and job to design how their Android will work.

      The same idea is with PC gaming, the modding community. Better tools for modding, more hours the game will gain and the variety to please different players rises. (It does not mean terrible game is great because great SDK)

      Android is at the same point as is iOS. Google can not improve it so much as it is already at great situation by usability and functionality.
      But Microsoft have same position as well, they made the UI so simple (!= easy to use) that they can not actually develop it dramatically. They made their bed and now they need to sleep on it.

      Android is not about one UI, it is about dozens of UI's. Every user can have own chosen UI from dozens of available ones. And configure it as they want and need. That is something what competitors never get because they ain't open.

      Only few better apps (yeah, that is not feature of the OS, and neither are GUI's or settings or any thing what you can see on computers) means that Google can not compete with itself.
      Google can not make dozens of great apps as it will kill developers purpose to exist. It would kill reason to use market place when it is full of same kind apps doing same things. Google can not check top 20 of market apps and make own better ones of them.
      Microsoft and Nokia believes it can do it. They simply are killing the developers reason to exist, as they are not developing "a platform" but "a product" what is "prefect out of the box" and if you don't like it, then you don't like it and change it but you just use it.

      Speech transcription is not new thing. It has been on Android few years. Any Android user could have press the mic button and speak their SMS's, Emails, Meetings, searches, launch applications.
      And if they have not liked the Google's version, they could have go to someone else own application. Android is not trying to catch iOS or WP on this, contrary, iOS and WP are catching Android.

      The Android own browser is great. Very fast and clean. No fancy features but does what mobile browser needs to do. If you dont like it, look else where. Google is not going to be a product manufacturer but a platform manufacturer.

      The data use monitoring app is something special. It is not actually a new app but it is just version 2.0 of Androids resource manager features. You know, you could have this far to check on what time what app used how much power and what app used how much data. But now they added some features to it and made it simpler from one place. And by my opinion, Google did step some developers foots right that moment.

      I am big Android fan, but I must say ICS is great improvement and maintains its throne but same time I feel that Google has gone to wrong direction and not actually doing everything it could have done to make Android better.

      Like giving the user a change to choose every widget to have same background and by default allowing use of developer idea of fancy graphics.
      Having a way to cut the control of manufacturer and carrier to stop updating the Android in few weeks after new Android release. At least for 2 years available updates (they talked about 1.5 year worth of updates for every device).
    • In other words ... Android doesn't have huge missing features, like WP7 did

      @bitcrazed - of course an Android upgrade won't have the same kind of fundamental feature upgrade that WP7 did last go round.

      And even having said that ... are you one of the WP7 fans who waxed poetic about their integrated contact list? Now Android has it. Tiles? Resizable widgets with live updates gives you that. It's not like all they did was fix a couple bugs. Markedly improved stock camera and video apps; better controls for multitasking; forced unification of numerous UX aspects ...

      I respect a lot of things you post - but I don't think this post was one of your more objective ones. Just my opinion, of course.
    • RE: Android 4.0's Five Best New Features for Users


      A unified API for phones and tablets is huuuuge, especially for an OS that is having difficulties craking the tablet market. I've got a feeling this alone could carry the Android Tablet market until the devices catch on with consumers.
  • Get use to it Android users

    your carrier has more incentive to sell you a new phone then to bring you the latest Android version to your old phone, double Doh!
    • RE: Android 4.0's Five Best New Features for Users

      @GoPower <br>well you know the nice thing about Android, ESPECIALLY if ICS will be open sourced, is that developers through forum sites like XDA and the likes will bring ICS to the older Android phones for you.<br>I personally cannot see anyone just buying an android phone and using it as is right out of the box (although that beats any other OS out there as is). First thing I do is go the XDA, and root it then modify it like crazy cuz that is what I like to do.<br><br>trust me, if you don't get ICS on your phone, these guys will get it on your phone amongst many other features that are locked down by the carriers.
      • RE: Android 4.0's Five Best New Features for Users

        @brad1000 Believe it or not, MOST Android users just leanve it as is & run it stock out of the box. I have owned an Android device since the launch of the original Droid on Verizon & have never changed anything about the phone except downloading apps. I know dozens of people with Android phones & all of them run it as is. You are by far the minority. Not saying that is bad at all. Just don't assume that everyone that buys Android does so because it can be fiddled with. Many of us buy it because of the large choice of phones available on many different carriers, and we like the OS as is.

        Oh, and I for one am looking forward to getting a new phone with ICS on it. I have been saving my upgrade for that reason. There will be many in the next few months.