October 19, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka
Alright, folks. We know that Android 4.0 is official now that Google took off the veil at its Hong Kong press event. Those of you who watched the live hangout during the broadcast know that the new features were largely about addressing previous grievances. There were also some new features that addressed concepts people wanted confirmed to finally be on the way.
For those of you just waking up to learn about all the great Ice Cream Sandwich highlights, here’s a recap based off what’s expressed in the Android 4.0 developer highlights. (And also a few tidbits shared by Dan Morill on Google+ last night.) More to come soon.
The “Refined, evolved UI” has been change to have new animations, a new typeface called Roboto that is optimized for hi-res screen, and software navigation buttons (Back, Home, Switch) that appear in all apps. The Action Bar serves as the defacto menu button.
Notification tab - Users can now swipe to remove specific items, see live updates from apps, and control music playback. So instead of having to clear all to remove notifications, you can just take out the one saying “New email” and leave the missed calendar reminder.
Home screen / Launcher - Users can now create home screen folders by placing apps on top of each other, which automatically creates the folder (which can also be put in a dock). Like Honeycomb and other 3rd party launchers, users can also uninstall apps directly from the launcher.
Resize widgets – Just like Honeycomb, users can resize widgets, most of which have been updated to reflect the new UI.
Lock screen - Users can now jump directly to notifications from their lock screen, to the camera by swiping left, or unlocking to the right. It also features a Face Unlock feature that will use facial recognition software to unlock the screen. Should recognition fail, a pin will serve as the second option.
Better keyboard - It’s faster, smoother, more accurate, and best of all, better at correction. There’s in-line spell check and the ability to install third-party dictionaries. So if you want something other than standard Webster, you can add some local twang to that thang.
Voice Input - Voice Actions have been improved to allow more accurate dictation for sending messages with punctuation and speaking for longer periods.
Monitor data usage - Users can track their data usage in case they are on a capped plan. They set a limit and then get warnings when approaching a certain threshold, then apply “hard limits” to disable mobile data and prevent overages. Similar to the battery monitor, the data usage is broken down according to app.
Audible feedback – The “Explore-by-touch” mode will provide feedback when a user hovers over an area. So if you can’t look at a screen because visual difficulties, hovering over a certain area will bring an audio sound saying “Dialer.” The browser also reads text allowed, and font size can be increased. These features are available by choosing accessibility during set-up.
People – There’s a Windows Phone 7-ike card for your contacts now. It links with social networks and displays updates, as well as provide the many options for communicating with them. A great feature is that if you are responding to someone in email, tapping on his/her name will bring up that’s person’s People card for better communication links.
Unified Calendar - There’s now an option to let other apps add events to the calendar and manage reminders, color-coded to support multiple calendars/agendas, and options for easing switching between them. One standout feature from the demo was pinch-to-zoom on the calendar, which allowed more information on an event or day to be shown.
Visual voicemail - You’ve seen it in 3rd parties, now you can see it built-in. Voice transcriptions (speech to text) and a list of people who have left messages will be displayed within the phone app.
Camera app – There was a complete overhaul. Google demo’d several of the features that you have been waiting on: Panoramic views, Stabilized zoom, and Continuous focus (and tap to focus).
However, without a doubt, the real star was the incredibly fast speed at which photos are taken. Google pressed a button and the photo was already taken before the person had much time to remove their finger from the screen. The “Zero shutter lag exposure” is the fastest you’ve probably seen on any smartphone. Heck, it’s probably faster than your dedicated camera, too.
Gallery app and photo editing- Photo editing has also been included. Users can now do basic things like crop and correct red eye, but they can also apply “Hipster” filters to make the images look like what you’ve seen on Instagram or PicPlz. It’s also easier to share photos (think the Honeycomb gallery app), put an album for display on a home screen, or use Live Effects and Silly Faces, which apply different backgrounds or face morphs.
Screenshots - Native. Built-in. Finally.
Better browser - Google Chrome bookmarks sync between desktop and mobile. Instantly. Users can now get desktop versions more readily, set items for offline reading, and swipe to close any of the many open tabs. There are also some under the hood changes made to improve script and loading performance.
Android Beam for NFC – Aside from mobile payments, NFC will also be used to initiate data transfers between different phones. But instead of merely saying, “Send this browser link to Joe,” when I’m in my browser, tapping two compatible phones together will automatically signal to Joe’s phone that I want him to see this link. His phone will immediately load that webpage in the browser. Android Beam does the same for app recommendations, contacts, songs, videos, and much more.
Wi-Fi Direct and Bluetooth HDP - Say you and I are both on the same Wi-Fi network. This sends signals to certain apps that we can establish a direct connection to send files faster than standard ways. Bluetooth HDP and Bluetooth HFP 1.6 are also supported.
As for the other features I alluded to, I’ll let Dan Morrill, an Android developer advocate, fill you in. The following is text quoted directly from his Google+ post here.
- Updated Settings
We’ve seriously revamped the Settings screen organization. Items are arranged much better now, and it’s easier and usually fewer actions to find what you are looking for.
- Disabling Apps
ICS adds the ability to disable an app outright. Don’t like an app that came preinstalled? Disable it! Its resources never run and its launcher icon is gone until you re-enable it. (This doesn’t free up any space — it can’t, since pre-installed apps are included in the read-only system storage. But it does put them “out of sight, out of mind.”)
- Camera Controls
The camera controls have been redesigned and are easier to find and mess around with.
- Improved Download Manager
It looks better and is easier to find and use, and to see and clear any downloads you might have.
- Support for Encryption for Phones
Honeycomb added full-device encryption, but ICS brings it to phones.
- Audio Effects
There’s a new audio effects API. Nuff said, really.