Google unveils Ice Cream Sandwich Android 4.0

The milestone Android update is a direct successor to both Gingerbread and Honeycomb, bringing new features to both smartphones and tablets
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Google has formally revealed Ice Cream Sandwich, also known as Android 4.0, alongside the first handset to use it, the Samsung-made Galaxy Nexus.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Google has formally unveiled the latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, alongside Samsung's Galaxy Nexus smartphone. Photo credit: Aloysius Low/CNET Asia

Ice Cream Sandwich, unveiled on Tuesday, is in the unusual situation of being a direct successor to two separate versions of Android: 'Gingerbread' version 2.4, and 'Honeycomb' version 3.0. Gingerbread is a smartphone OS, and Honeycomb is for tablets only, but Ice Cream Sandwich is intended to reunify the overall Android experience.

"With Ice Cream Sandwich, our mission was to build a mobile OS that works on both phones and tablets, and to make the power of Android enticing and intuitive," Google mobile chief Andy Rubin wrote in a blog post. "We created a new font that's optimised for HD displays and eliminated all hardware buttons in favour of adaptable software buttons."

Google has made widgets resizable in Ice Cream Sandwich, and has refreshed the designs of the Gmail and Calendar apps. The Android browser has also been revamped, offering a new tab manager, private browsing and bookmark synchronisation with the desktop Chrome browser.

The Contacts facility is now the People app, which features integrated updates from Google+ and other "social services", Rubin said.

The company has introduced features that make use of recent Android handsets' near-field communications (NFC) capabilities. A function called Android Beam lets people "instantly share web pages, YouTube videos, maps, directions and apps by simply tapping two phones together", Rubin added.

Galaxy Nexus

Google's mobile chief made the big Ice Cream Sandwich announcement alongside Samsung in Hong Kong. The Korean company will have the first device to run Android 4.0, the Galaxy Nexus.

The Nexus line is traditionally used to showcase the latest version of Google's mobile operating system in its stock form, without manufacturer customisation. Samsung made Galaxy Nexus's predecessor, the Nexus S, which was the first device to run Gingerbread.

The Galaxy Nexus has a 4.65-inch screen that is larger than the 4-inch screen of the Nexus S but retains its predecessor's face-fitting curvature. Resolution has seen a significant upgrade from 480 x 800 pixels to 1280 x 720 pixels, more commonly referred to as 720p high definition (HD) — this is the native resolution of Ice Cream Sandwich, bringing a tablet-grade pixel count to a much smaller screen.

Samsung's new device also has a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, and comes with either '4G' LTE or HSPA+ connectivity, depending on which standard has been rolled out in the buyer's country.

The phone has a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing alternative for video-calling and for unlocking the device — a new feature in Ice Cream Sandwich called Face Unlock lets the owner access the OS by smiling at their handset.

According to Google, the Galaxy Nexus will go on sale in Europe, North America and Asia from November.

The company has not yet indicated when Ice Cream Sandwich will become available as an upgrade for existing Gingerbread handsets. Based on precedent, it should be pushed out over-the-air to the Nexus S first, as Nexus phones have a direct link back to Google and do not need to wait for manufacturer customisation in order to receive OS version upgrades.

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