Like Apple's iOS 5, Ice Cream Sandwich is the first Android update that will serve both Android-powered smartphones and tablets alike in an effort to bring the Android device family closer together and make the system more intuitive.
We created a new font that's optimized for HD displays and eliminated all hardware buttons in favor of adaptable software buttons, said the Android team in a Google blog post. We also dramatically improved the keyboard, made notifications more interactive and created resizable widgets.
Given that Apple released its newest iOS last week, how does Android 4.0 stack up to iOS 5.0? Here's a quick comparison of the key features found across the two platforms:
Notification System: Android's notification system was likely Apple's inspiration for its Notification Center in iOS 5, which houses all incoming text and push notifications in a single tray that the user can pull down from the top. Android's Ice Cream Sandwich took its system and improved it, allowing the user to flick away less important notifications and save the more important ones for later. Both platforms allow the user to view notifications directly from the lock screen.
Keyboard improvements: Android's new keyboard is dramatically improved in Ice Cream Sandwich, thanks to a new design, inline spell-check, and a new way to cut, copy, paste and even drag text for easy manipulation. In iOS 5, iPad users can now split the virtual keyboard in half with their thumbs for easier tablet typing.
Web browsing: In iOS 5, Apple overhauled its Safari browser with tabbed browsing, a Reading List to save articles for later reading on any iOS device (thanks to iCloud), and the Reader, which removes ads and other clutter for articles, allowing for a clean reading experience. Ice Cream Sandwich can sync your bookmarks with Google Chrome Browser, and similarly added a tab manager for a more streamlined Web surfing experience.
Camera boost: Ice Cream Sandwich supports the high-end camera found on the Galaxy Nexus, which will be the first phone with the Android update. The new OS allows for zero shutter lag and auto focus and can capture pictures in low-light settings. Apple's iOS 5, however, revamped its camera UI even further, adding the ability to pinch the screen to zoom the camera, tapping the screen to focus and adding the ability to record panoramic photos and videos with the + volume button. Both operating systems also feature extensive photo editing tools to fix and enhance photos directly on the phone.
Unique features on Android's Ice Cream Sandwich:
Android Beam: Thanks to a near-field communication (NFC) chip, Ice Cream Sandwich allows users to share webpages, videos, maps, apps, and directions by tapping two phones together, similar to the popular Bump app for iPhones and Androids.
Home screen: To make all Android devices look like Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich replaces the Gingerbread icons with Honeycomb-style widgets, which can now be resized to one's liking to make the screen look fuller.
Face Unlock: By putting your face up to the screen, Android's operating system uses state-of-the-art facial recognition technology to unlock the phone. (At the Ice Cream Sandwich unveiling in Hong Kong, Face Unlock failed to work during the demonstration.)
Open Mic: Unlike Siri, the iPhone 4S virtual assistant that's activated with the push of a button, Android's voice input system is always open, so the OS is always listening to the user for instructions.
Mobile data: iOS5 lets users turn off mobile data, Android offers its users more control. Ice Cream Sandwich digs deep into data, letting users see exactly what comprises their mobile data. You can see which apps cause the biggest spikes in data usage, and you can even then limit the data on those particular apps.
Unique features on Apple's iOS 5:
iCloud: iOS 5 is the first platform to run iCloud, which is Apple's cloud infrastructure that bestows users with 5 GB of free online storage and streaming of their media files. Users can also purchase more storage. By plugging an iOS 5 device into a power source, iCloud automatically pushes all documents, apps, calendars, mail, contacts, photos and music to all of the user's other iOS devices. As Apple CEO Tim Cook said, It just works.
iMessage: iOS 5 replaces the Messages app with iMessages, which is Apple's new free text messaging service. Similar to BlackBerry's Messenger, iMessages allows iOS users to send unlimited texts, photos, locations and contacts to anyone who owns an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Thanks to wireless syncing, users can start a conversation on one device and continue it on another, and they can also track their sent messages with delivery and read receipts.
Tweet Everything: Apple elected to optimize nearly every one of its apps for Twitter, letting users tweet photos, pages from Safari, YouTube movies and even their location. Once users sign into Twitter on the device's settings, they'll never need to sign in again. There's even a way to leverage the iPhone 4S personal assistant Siri to have her tweet for you.
PC independence: iOS 5 is the first system update that allows all Apple devices to be set up sans computer. Once you've set up the device and synced it for the first time, you'll never need computer cords ever again. Thanks to iCloud, all information backs up and syncs automatically with any other computers or iDevices.
Android 4.0 was allegedly leaked in September, when someone ordered a Samsung Nexus S smartphone over eBay only to discover the phone was pre-loaded with what was believed to be Ice Cream Sandwich. The man filmed a two-minute video and sent it off to Engadget before, reportedly, the phone was remotely locked and wiped.
Starting in November, Samsung will release the Galaxy Nexus in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia. Apple released its newest smartphone, the iPhone 4S, on Oct. 14. The new iPhone was Apple's first phone pre-loaded with the iOS 5 update.
The two tech giants continue to battle over patent allegations, with Samsung most recently trying to block sales of Apple's new iPhone 4S in Japan and Australia.