It has been seven months since the release of the release of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), the operating system that is supposed to unify all devices running Android, whether they be phones or tablets. Android 4.0 is great — we love it — so why is it installed on only 4.9 percent of Android devices? We are finally starting to see non-Nexus devices being released with the frosty treat, and ever so slowly older handsets are getting updated. It is easy to say that there is a nearly endless list of great new features on ICS, but in reality, most of these new additions won’t be used by the majority of Android users. So if your phone or tablet is getting updated from Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) or Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) to Ice Cream Sandwich in the near future, we’ve rounded up five reasons why you should want Android 4.0.
One of the strong points of the Android operating system has always been its multitasking capabilities, but one of the real weaknesses of previous versions was that you couldn’t see which apps are running, nor could you easily close those apps without digging through the Settings menu. ICS has changed this; not only is it easy, it is also extremely satisfying. There are only three navigation buttons on Android 4.0 devices: Back, Home, and Applications. When you press the Applications button you will be presented with a visual list of all the apps currently running on your phone. With a simple swipe of your finger, you can close each app. There is a real sense of accomplishment when you whittle away running apps using your Fruit Ninja swiping skills. (Though sadly, there are no sound effects like in Fruit Ninja.) Besides being fun, the benefit of closing unused apps is that you can really save battery life, so it is always a good idea to check what you have running. If an app is acting up, closing it and restarting it through this method can also save you some grief.
It is unbelievable how much the camera app has changed from Android 2.3 to 4.0. Even with exactly the same hardware, it is as if you have a brand new camera. You can take pictures instantaneously, with absolutely no shutter lag no matter how slow your previous camera operated. No longer do you have to wait for the exact perfect moment to take your picture; you can just continuously press the shutter button until you get the shot you want. This is also a great way to impress friends who have iPhones, or have yet to upgrade to ICS.
Technically, the notification system on ICS hasn’t changed much from previous versions of Android. How you manage your notifications is where Android 4.0 really shines. Now you are able to view your list of notifications and simply swipe away any that you want to ignore, or are unimportant. Granted it wasn’t too difficult to press the little X on the right side of each notification in previous versions of Android, but there is just something visceral about swiping away notifications. If you have never tried it, find someone who has an ICS device and ask to try it, you will never want to go back to clicking away notifications. Swiping is better than tapping.
One of the big challenges Google is facing with making an interface is making sure that applications designed for phones can work properly on tablets while still looking good. There still aren’t many apps that are fully 4.0 compatible, but the few that are available look and feel great. Google is also taking a cue from Apple and has issued a style guide for ICS apps in hopes that future apps will share a similar look feel. As the library of ICS-specific apps increases, this feature will only become more and more beneficial.
Chrome Browser is an example of one of the unified applications we just talked about. Google’s Chrome browser is in beta and doesn’t come pre-installed on any device, but it can only be installed on devices with Android 4.0 — and only devices with 4.0. Personally, we haven’t really had any issues with default Android browser; it got the job done and didn’t get in the way. Chrome, on the other hand, is the best mobile browser we’ve used. Unlike the other mobile browsers we’ve used, it is able to handle multiple tabs flawlessly. You can view your open tabs visually like cover flow, and swipe to remove tabs that you no longer need. Chrome the first app you should download when you get ICS.
The actual list of improvements packaged inside of ICS is quite extensive, but most of the benefits will go unnoticed by the average consumer. Some highly anticipated features like Face Unlock and Android Beam have been big letdowns functionally, but are still neat gimmicks to show off to your friends. Hopefully your device is scheduled to be updated in the not so distant future so you can enjoy some of these features. If you are currently using Ice Cream Sandwich and your favorite feature was left off this list, let us know.
(Awesome header image via TechnoBuffalo)