Google finally serves up Android Ice Cream Sandwich

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Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) finally took the wraps off its long-awaited Android 4.0 mobile operating system (codenamed "Ice Cream Sandwich"), promising a more sophisticated and unified user experience across smartphones and tablets.

android 4.0 ice cream sandwich

Ice Cream Sandwich allows users to jump to the camera or see notifications without unlocking the device.

Unveiled at a Hong Kong media event that also spotlighted the introduction of Samsung Electronics' Galaxy Nexus smartphone, Android 4.0 delivers the tablet-optimized innovations introduced in Google's Android 3.0 Honeycomb update to all devices running Android in an effort to reduce platform fragmentation. Google first confirmed Ice Cream Sandwich's launch during its annual I/O developer conference in May and promised that moving forward, the same version of Android will run across all devices, regardless of screen size.

Highlights of Android 4.0 include an evolved user interface making common actions more visible, enabling users to navigate using simplified, more intuitive gestures. A new typeface optimized for high-resolution screens touts enhanced readability and new animations and feedback support for more compelling interactions. Android 4.0 also touts new System Bar virtual buttons bringing instant navigation to Back, Home and Recent Apps, as well as more visual multitasking and more interactive notifications.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich also heralds new home screen folders enabling users to group their applications and shortcuts more logically by dragging one onto another. An All Apps launcher enables users to drag an app to learn more about it or immediately uninstall it--they can also disable a pre-installed app. Smaller-screen devices also include a customizable favorites tray visible from all home screens.

The laundry list of new and enhanced Android 4.0 features additionally includes resizable widgets, new lock screen actions, one-touch swiping to dismiss notifications, tasks and browser tabs, improved text input and spell-checking, and a new voice input engine offering a continuous "open microphone" experience and streaming voice recognition. In conjunction with all the new features, Google is also introducing new controls for managing network data usage, simplifying life for consumers on tiered or metered data plans. For the complete list of new user features, click here.

Android 4.0 introduces a series of new capabilities and APIs for developers. Chief among the enhancements: A unified UI toolkit, new social and calendar APIs, Android Beam for NFC-based instant sharing, Wi-Fi Direct support and Bluetooth Health Device Profile support. Also new: Graphics, camera and media capabilities like image and video effects, precise camera metering and face detection, and new media codecs and containers.

Alongside Android 4.0, Google is rolling out new versions of the SDK Tools (r14) and ADT Plugin (14.0) for Eclipse, highlighted by improved build performance in Ant and Eclipse as well as enhanced layout and XML editors. Developers should click here to get started.

Android dominates 43.7 percent of the U.S. smartphone market according to data issued earlier this month by research firm comScore. Android-powered tablets lag far behind Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) pacesetting iPad, however: Researcher IDC reports that Apple's iOS commands 68.3 percent of the worldwide tablet market as of the second quarter of 2011, with Android trailing at 26.8 percent.

For more:
- read this Android Developers Blog entry

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