Besides already being the most popular mobile system in the world, Google will be adding yet another update to the Android system, nicknamed Ice Cream Sandwich. So far, all of the Android versions in use have been identified using a designated sweet treat as its moniker. The system's most recent versions were called Gingerbread (for smartphones) and Honeycomb (for tablets).
Before those were out, there were several other versions that had been in place on older devices going back a handful of years. Google is trying to phase them out with the new Android 4.0 update, but it is also going to combine Gingerbread and Honeycomb into one mobile system for all mobile devices.
Microsoft and Apple, the two other largest mobile software makers, are working on a similar solution, but also have an already existing landscape of laptop and desktop systems to maintain. Google doesn't have to worry about that. They don't make laptops or desktops. That's one reason why their Android system has taken off to the point where many mobile device makers use it, albeit in sometimes customized versions.
With the Android 4.0 update, there are many new changes that will be pushed out to select devices (read: new ones) once the system debuts in November. Google is teaming up with Samsung to launch the third in a line of Google branded smartphones called the Galaxy Nexus, and it is with this device that Ice Cream Sandwich will launch.
There are two new features in Android 4.0 that reach into the futuristic-sounding realm in order to catch people's attention. Android Beam and Face Unlock are in the iPhone 4S' Siri neighborhood. In the same way that Siri can send your emails and texts by you speaking them to the device, so Face Unlock can recognize you and unlock your device. Instead of voice recognition (Siri), it's facial recognition, a sure sign of the future. Once you load a photo of your face onto your Ice Cream Sandwich device, the Face Unlock feature can use that photo to compare whoever is trying to unlock the device. If it's a match then the device is enabled, and ICS can tell if someone is holding up a picture of you to try and fool it.
Then there is the Android Beam, a feature that makes use of the near field communication (NFC) chip that will be on more and more devices in the future. This is one of the features that will probably not work on devices that are even one year old because the NFC chip must be present for it to work. The beam works if you take two Ice Cream Sandwich devices with the NFC technology and tap them together. Bam! Instant transfer of apps, contacts, Web sites and videos; whatever you want to share.
The other three upgrades that make a big difference are ease of use and organizational tools. Android 4.0 will have improved multitasking ability, a much better camera interface and home screen folders that are much like a similar iOS function. The folders help group apps or shortcuts together and, as with iOS, you can do it by dragging icons on top of one another.
For the multitasking, you get a boost with Ice Cream Sandwich because it's easier to see which apps you've been using recently. If you decide you're done with using one, you can easily flick it away to close. The Recent Apps button lets users jump instantly from one task to another using the list in the System Bar. The list pops up to show thumbnail images of apps used recently. Just tap a thumbnail and switch to the app. For the camera, there are new filters to choose from and you can take a snapshot while shooting video by tapping the screen. Additionally, there is tap to focus and sharing with Google+, message, email or Picasa. Screenshots will also be enabled on ICS and a fun feature called Live Effects that distorts faces and changes backgrounds will debut.
Tell us in the comments if you are a converted iOS user or if you plan to switch soon.
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