Thu Oct, 2011 by Derek Mehraban
On Monday night Google finally released Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), its new version of the Android operating system. ICS was touted as an improvement over Honeycomb, but the changes are actually quite significant. This is an important advancement not only for the smartphones based on Android but for the growing tablet market that Apple’s iPad has been able to run away with. Google wants to close the tablet gap and ICS is supposed to help with that.
The tablet suffers from a lack of productivity. One of the main hindrances is the lack of good mutli-tasking. Apple tried to fix this in iOS5 but ICS does a much better job. Not only will apps continue working in the background, but ICS offers a “Recent Apps” function that will make switching between apps much easier and more friendly.
Reports are that ICS solves a problem that has always plagued Android. While Android was always a powerful OS, it was never very attractive. The new UI is stunning to look at, fun to play with and intuitively powerful. People are raving about its design, ground normally inhabited only by Apple.
ICS also contains functions for easy grouping of apps, retrieving apps and even to uninstall apps. This will encourage many people who often struggle with bloatware put on the phones by manufacturers. It’s a problem iPhone users are not plagued with, but ICS’ ability to help users with this problem is sure to bring some people into its fold.
Widgets are resizable. Not only is the user able to change the size of a widget for their own preference or for differing screen sizes, but developers are also able to resize widgets. This will help retroactively make phones better suited for different uses and depending on different screen sizes. It is another problem that Apple users are not bothered with, because Apple is a closed system. The fragmentation of the Android world highlighted this is a problem needing resolution. ICS does seem to democratize what is happening in the smartphone allowing for the Android fragmentation issue to heal itself.
Apple had done a good job closing the voice input gap with Siri and iOS5. ICS will widen that gap again. The new voice recognition software will allow the user to speak for as long as he likes, opposed to Siri’s cut off after a certain amount of data. The uses of this function are fairly limited right now, but future abilities to turn that data into searchable or translatable material will become a beneficial difference between Android and iOS.
One of the biggest changes to ICS is the cloud based browser. By moving much of the processing to the cloud the phone itself has sped up. Reports are that ICS is 220% faster when browsing than the Gingerbread release of Android. Browsing has always been an issue for Android devices. Most people needed to install a 3rd party browser because the browsing was so suspect. The new native browser, however, is much faster and much more functional. Mobile browser developers might find themselves pushed out of a market, the reports are that good. This has obvious and significant implications for the digital agency.
ICS will also use the near field communications chip as more than a mobile wallet system. Android Beam will allow to NFC equipped devices to automatically exchange data. It is reminiscent of Blackberries and their ability to zip information back and forth through an infrared connection. NFC can function based on proximity though, so there is not a line of sight problem. ICS will also allow Android devices to link up via Bluetooth or wi-fi, so the new feature is not limited to only NFC enabled devices. This will be significant for productivity, an issue Apple has not yet been able to resolve.
Manufacturers are promising their users phone upgrades, but when those upgrades will happen is still unknown. HTC, for example, says it will first need to review ICS and how it interacts with HTC Sense, its own user interface, before allowing an upgrade to happen. That evaluation will also need to happen on each individual handset. It may be quite some time before the mobile marketing agency sees Android 4.0 showing up in reports about the OS of mobile advertisement viewers.
Part of the iPhone 4S disappointment was the lack of many of these features. ICS is a significant jump over iOS5, a gap that will probably be made by Apple when the iPhone 5 is finally released. Until then, however, the digital agency can expect other mobile OS developers to be playing catch up.