The most remarkable change that ICS will implement lies in the interface. The new OS is designed to work without buttons. The ‘home’ and ‘back’ buttons will remain as they always were, but the ‘long press’ function has been removed, and a ‘multi-tasking’ (or ‘recent apps’) command has been added. This latter command will allow the user to access a menu showing all recent apps that have been used, all of which can be exited by a simple sideways swipe. This feature will go a long way toward conserving battery life should any of those apps be conducting updates in the background. The three main command buttons will collapse down to three small dots when any media app is launched in order to maximize the screen real estate for videos and such, which will likely represent something of a learning curve for new users.
One of the new features of Android 4.0 is called ‘Face Unlock,’ which will allow users to unlock their phones merely by looking at them. This is, unfortunately, more of a gimmick than a feature, as it consistently malfunctions in certain lighting conditions, can be fooled by a photograph of the user instead of his or her actual face, and even Google admits on the “about screen” that Face Unlock is less secure than a PIN or pattern. Nevertheless, it’s still unassailably cool, and will be fun to whip out at parties, at least until everybody else is running 4.0.
And when will that be? Unlike iOS updates, which are valid for all devices at once, ICS will first be available on the more popular, high-end phones, most notably Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus, sometimes referred to as ICS’s “mother ship.” HTC announced that seven of its models will get ICS in early 2012, and most manufacturers will make it available on all devices released within 18 months of the OS’s own release.
A full review of ICS is beyond the scope of this post, but rest assured that we’ll keep you abreast of its progress as it makes its way to market.