Google unwrapped its new Android Ice Cream Sandwich operating system at an event in Hong Kong this week. The OS is a massive step forward for Android, bringing a revamped design and staggering number of fresh features into the platform.
So what exactly is new with Ice Cream Sandwich, and what'll it mean for you? Here are answers to all of your most pressing questions.
What looks different in Android Ice Cream Sandwich?
So much has changed with Ice Cream Sandwich, it's hard to know where to begin. The first thing you'll notice with ICS is its completely reimagined design, especially compared with Gingerbread and other past phone-centric versions of the platform.
Ice Cream Sandwich is an evolution of the holographic interface introduced with the Honeycomb tablet OS earlier this year. It has a far more sleek and polished look, all the way down to a brand new font created specifically for the software (Google calls it "Roboto").
With ICS, Google is trying to give Android users a more intuitive and consistent experience. Gone are the hidden and layered menus of commands; instead, an on-screen "action bar" presents you with contextual options relevant to the specific process you're performing.
The need for physical buttons like the home, back, and menu keys is completely eliminated, as a matter of fact; Ice Cream Sandwich, like Honeycomb, places these functions on-screen, rotating them to fit any way you hold your device and displaying them only when they're needed. That's why the new Galaxy Nexus flagship phone has no physical buttons; presumably, most future ICS phones will follow that trend.
What'll happen on phones that do have physical buttons, then? Will Ice Cream Sandwich work on those types of devices?
Yep -- only instead of getting the on-screen navigation buttons, you'll use your phone's physical buttons in the same way you do now. The menu key will load any contextual on-screen menus, and long-pressing the home key will load the multitasking tool, just like it has in past Android releases.
So what's the home screen like in Ice Cream Sandwich? Can I still set it up the way I want?
Absolutely -- the ICS home screen is really just an improved version of the home screen you have on your phone now. It still provides an open, customizable space that you can fill with any number and any combination of apps, shortcuts, and widgets. There are, however, a few noteworthy changes:
First, for phones, the dock at the bottom of the screen -- called the "favorites tray" -- now features four icons in addition to a link to your app drawer. You can change the four icons to point to any apps or shortcuts you want.
Second, widgets are now a whole new game. Ice Cream Sandwich introduces support for scrollable, interactive widgets, like we saw with Honeycomb -- meaning you can scroll through your inbox right from your home screen or flip through the latest news stories without having to ever open an app. Widgets in Ice Cream Sandwich are also resizable, so you can make them as large or as small as you want. All of the included system widgets are completely redesigned to reflect those changes and the new graphical look.
Speaking of widgets, the way in which you customize your home screens is all new in Ice Cream Sandwich. Apps and widgets now live together in one centralized customization tool; you can drag and drop any item from that tool directly onto any home screen panel. It's a simpler, easier, and much more intuitive setup.
Finally, folders are worth mentioning: With Ice Cream Sandwich, you can create folders simply by dragging one app on top of another. Function aside, folders have a new and improved look as well, making the feature even more appealing than it was in past releases.