I watched the live Google/Samsung announcement of the Galaxy Nexus yesterday. The event was held in Hong Kong, and streamed live to the Android Developers YouTube channel. I wasn’t completely blown away by the hardware – seems pretty run-of-the-mill after being spoiled with the Galaxy S II. But I was impressed to see how much thought Google has put into the user experience for Android 4.0 (“Ice Cream Sandwich”).
I get the impression that this time, Google’s focused on the little things. Like zero shutter lag for the camera, rather than the megapixel count. Or streamlining the voice-to-text capabilities, as well as copy & paste. These “little things” are really the things that matter for consumers. Apple’s known this for a long time, and one of the selling points for Apple’s phones is the great user experience (even if the flexibility isn’t there). I think Google’s trying to take a leaf from Apple’s book here, and start building an engaging, “love-able” (their words, not mine!) user interface. An admirable goal, and from what I’ve seen, they have taken big steps in this direction with the latest version of Android.
But that’s the consumer side of things. For developers, Android 4.0 introduces a number of new concepts, including:
- Unified UI toolkit – “A single set of UI components, styles, and capabilities for phones, tablets, and other devices”. So Android 4.0 has finally pulled together the Gingerbread & Honeycomb releases.
- Rich communication and sharing – A bunch of new APIs, most significantly Android Beam, which enables NFC-based instant sharing between smartphones.
- New lock screen – Not sure how much opportunity there is for developers to plug in here, but Google has introduced a new set of instant actions which can be accessed directly from the lock screen (camera & music controls).
- Hardware-accelerated 2D drawing – Finally!
- Better mouse & stylus input support – Don’t assume everyone’s using fingers to interact with your Android app
- Improved text-to-speech APIs – the other half of Siri 😉
- Enterprise enhancements – Keychain & VPN APIs for managing credentials, worth looking at if you store any kind of sensitive credentials in your app.
Some of these improvements are long overdue (such as hardware-accelerated 2D drawing). Others are more innovative and exciting, such as Android Beam. Overall this release seems to be tying together some previously sparse APIs, and building on the strengths that Android already has. Now that the tablet & phone SDKs have been fully integrated, we’ll hopefully see some more consistency in the APIs moving forward.
If you’re a developer, I highly recommending downloading the new SDK (version 14) right now. There are a heap of enhancements, including a faster incremental build process, and the SDK Manager GUI has been completely revamped. It’s really worth an upgrade just for the build speed alone. Also, the Android Asset Studio has been integrated into the Eclipse plugin. So you can create icons from within the IDE itself.
Random note: When I told my family “today Google announced the first ice cream sandwich phone” they gave me some very strange looks. It seems that people who aren’t Android developers have this irrational assumption that “ice cream sandwich” is referring to food…. 🙂