This increasingly nippy time of year seems an odd choice to be discussing ice cream sandwiches – unless said confection is the latest in a tasty-sounding software series from Google.
Ice Cream Sandwich is the fourth incarnation of Google's Android operating system (OS) for smartphones and tablets – the successor to previous versions Gingerbread and Honeycomb (a tablet-only version). It's not yet in wide release, but software developers are already hard at work adapting their apps to this major redesign.
Phones supporting Ice Cream Sandwich will be available from Bell and Virgin Mobile from early December. Rogers gets it in January.
Here are 10 things you need to know about Ice Cream Sandwich:
- Google's goal was to unify the OS for smartphones and tablets, so regardless of screen size, Android will look the same. Because of this, the user interface has had a makeover, migrating the best of Honeycomb’s tablet features to phones and adding resizable widgets and a new, more readable font.
- You will be able to unlock your phone by looking at it, thanks to Face Unlock, a new facial-recognition feature. However, Google does warn that this is not as secure as other authentication methods, such as passwords or PINs, since “someone who looks similar to you could unlock your phone.”
- There’s no Flash player available for Ice Cream Sandwich yet. Adobe says it should arrive by year end, but that’s it – there’ll be no more mobile Flash after that.
- New feature Android Beam uses Near Field Communication (NFC) to transfer data between devices – you can swap information by holding phones a short distance (maximum about 20 cm) away from each other. In addition, you can receive information from NFC-enabled displays, and Beam allows for e-commerce payment by simply waving the phone over a reader – or tapping it, as with PayPass. The phone must, of course, contain an NFC chip.
- The redesigned calendar lets other apps add events and reminders. Multiple calendars and colour-coding let you keep business and personal schedules separate, yet you can still see what’s happening in your life at a glance.
- Like Windows Phone 7, Ice Cream Sandwich now imports details from your social networks into contact records. When you first start up your phone, you’re prompted to join Google’s own social network, Google +.
- Need a screenshot of a smartphone app? Ice Cream Sandwich includes the ability to take snapshots of the display, store them locally, edit and share them.
- With all of these features, it’s all too easy to blow your data plan out of the water. Ice Cream Sandwich includes new monitoring tools so you can see how much data you’ve used, what application used it, and whether it was over cellular or Wi-Fi. You can set alerts to warn you if you’re approaching your plan’s limit, to help avoid expensive charges, and can define how much data apps are allowed to consume in the background (updating maps or sharing location data, for example).
- Android’s camera system has had some serious polishing, too. Google says there’s now zero lag-time from shutter to shot, stabilized zoom while recording, and time-lapse settings. Face detection finds and focuses on faces in frame, and you can grab a still snapshot while recording a video by simply tapping the screen. The icing on the cake: There’s now a built-in photo editor, so you can tweak those shots before sharing them.
- Audio file management is now much easier thanks to the new visual voicemail, which integrates messages, voice transcriptions and audio files into a single app. Third-party apps will be able to integrate with it as well.
There's more, of course, for both work and play. Check out the Android site for your own taste of the Ice Cream Sandwich.