Ice Cream Sandwich, also known as Android 4.0, is the latest update to Android OS and is the most significant update to the operating system since its initial release. This next-generation of Android OS is said to meld the gaps left between previous versions of the operating system, which means it will run on both tablets and smartphone devices, creating a similar experience across all Android devices.

Google's announcement of Ice Cream Sandwich comes less than one year after the first major update was made to Android OS—Android 3.0 Honeycomb—-which was only available on tablets. The company initially touted Honeycomb as the newest, most powerful version of Android OS, but quickly realized that it had marginalized its smartphone users and, more importantly, segmented its mobile apps market, the Android Market.

Ice Cream Sandwich is a complete OS makeover, which marks a critical step taken if Google is serious about competing with the Apple iOS head on. The new operating system will help create a cohesive Android experience across every device, which mimics the Apple model, where users that have the operating system on their smartphones are immediately able to operate tablets loaded with the same operating system.

Google has been supporting two versions of their operating system for the past nine months: The company had tremendous success getting Android OS onto smartphones by nearly every major phone distributor, but those devices are largely equipped with Android 2.2 Froyo or Android 2.3 Gingerbread; meanwhile, the company released another version of Android, a version more tablet-oriented, built for larger screens and stronger processors, dubbed Android 3.0 Honeycomb.

The difference between each version of the operating system lies in its ability to run certain apps in the Android Market. In essence, not all Android devices are created equally. The operating system is fragmented and, concordantly, so is the Android Market.

The Android Market provided little-to-no help sorting out which applications were available on the Android 3.0 Honeycomb. The update inevitably became a parallel version of the operating system. Although it was supported by Google, Honeycomb users only made up a small portion of total Android users worldwide. Honeycomb users currently account for 1.8% of total Android users. That's not a pretty mark for Google, especially since this is supposed to be the latest update to its operating system.

Ice Cream Sandwich appears to bridge the gap between Android 2.0 and Android 3.0. This version is said to run on all Android devices. At their presentation in Hong Kong, a Google representative also premiered the first phone to run the new operating system-the Samsung Galaxy Nexus S. He also said that the company sought out the latest design trends for inspiration while building the new user interface. Magazine layouts and typographic trends were used as the main inspiration for the new animations and designs.

Simple functions from the phone have been updated in a big way. Some of the most notable include the notification pull-down being accessible from the lock screen, enhanced text input such as in-line spell check and a keyboard redesign, a face-recognition feature that unlocks the phone, resizable widgets and the ability to customize the favorites bar at the bottom of the screen. Several Google apps have been updated as well, including major updates to the Gmail app.

How this will affect the Android Market is yet to be determined. Android developers will now have three different versions of the operating system for which they can build apps for and, since 45.3% of Android users are still running the dated Android 2.2 Froyo operating system, this could be problematic. Google has not specified how the update will affect current users of older forms of the operating system. According the Android blog, Android 4.0 should work on devices running Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but don't hold your breath waiting on an update.

Possibly the strangest of all to come out of this announcement is the fact that the new Motorola Droid RAZR, which excited much of the tech world yesterday, will not be be preloaded with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. No worries if you pre-ordered the phone, though. An Android 4.0 update is expected in early 2012