The Android 4.0 presentation probably got the most attention of any Android release presentation so far. Android has grown to be more and more popular over this past year and the Android lovin’ is at an all time. A lot of the time we get so caught up in the newness that we forget what is truly innovative and what should have been here a long time ago. Apple presentations, for example, are famous for having two sides. There’s always the side that has a religious experience with everything that’s announced, and another that likes to point out that while the newer things are nice, they shouldn’t be considered “new.” After talking with some of my friends about the ICS presentation, I’ve realized that even Android is starting to develop that dual nature. So without further ado, I’ll present the things that you should be genuinely happy that Android now does while also declaring the improvements that it should have done a while ago. Ain’t nobody done tell me I be too biased.
Please note that some of the updates listed have been found from pilfering around the Android SDK that was released and weren’t specifically announced in the presentation. Also, realize this isn’t me being ungrateful for all that Google has done. I’m just pointing out what many people are going to do anyway. It wouldn’t be fair of us as an Android community to hack on Apple for “innovating” old functions and sticking the “revolutionary” sticker on them and not be able to take the same criticism.
Thing #1 that you should be excited about: Dat Camera
Whether it’s going to specific to the Galaxy Nexus or a requirement for newer Android phones is yet to be determined, but the camera put on display during the event was nothing short of amazing. Sure, it’s only 5 MP, but zero shutter lag and full camera capability while recording 1080p? Cameras have been achieving this recently and kudos to Google/Samsung for bringing it to mobile phones. In a world where personal cameras are slowly being edged out by the one that allows you to make calls as well, this was a great addition to Android. The term “point and shoot” barely does the Galaxy Nexus’ camera enough justice. Did you see how fast that thing was able to auto focus and take shots? Definitely a welcome upgrade instead of the usual “we now have more MPs.”
Thing #1 that we should have had already: Native photo editor
Is it just me, or was Android the last to have this? Heck, some of my older feature phones had the ability to add a few effects on the crusty pictures they took. I’m amazed it took Android this long to implement a native photo editing app. Hell, Apple added video editing a year ago. The app appears to be very functional and polished, but this to me seems more like playing catch up to other platforms; something Android isn’t famous for doing.
Thing #2 that you should be excited about: Data Usage Tracker
In a day and age where the word “tier” makes phone enthusiasts cringe every time, people have become more obsessed with watching their data usage than ever before (will this app even exist on Sprint plans?). While I’m sad it has come to this, whoever thought of this was a genius. Not only can you look at how much data you’ve used without having to sign into your carrier’s website or call them, you can break down how much data every app has used. So you notice twitter is constantly pulling data and is spiking up your usage big time? You can set it to stop doing that once you’ve hit a certain amount of data in a month. How freaking sweet is that? Even though I’m on a glorious Sprint unlimited plan (hello everyone else that doesn’t live in the US), I’ve seen what megabyte counting can do to people. The fact that one of my friends told me he had to bust out his PS3 to watch Netflix instead of his phone because he was running low on data usage for the month disturbs me…but carriers have to be just as disturbed knowing that they’re second biggest* money ripping scheme of all time might take a major dent. $10 per MB over? Please.
*I wasn’t even aware until recently that certain carriers *cough*AT&Tisabsolutecrap*cough* (pardon me, I have a cold) charge ridiculous amounts for texting. Seriously? I thought the “I have to watch my texts” phase was over when I was in middle school.
Thing #2 that we should have had already (sort of): Native task killing
It used to be included in older versions of stock Android, and then Google decided it wasn’t necessary (old AOSP devices used to be able to hold the back button to close apps). But I’m happy to say that they brought back the ability kill apps by simply swiping them away in your “recently used” app drawer…thing. For a year and a half now I’ve had to go into menu, settings, manage apps, and find the specific app I wanted to kill. While I rarely do this (I can probably count the number of times on two hands), the fact that I had to do it at some point still irritates me. Thank you Google for bringing back a useful feature.
Thing #3 that you should be excited about: Improved Gmail client
Google really takes their apps seriously, don’t they? While some of the Gmail updates may seem minor, they are in fact very useful. In general, the user interface was improved and some of the offline abilities will be great for those who use their phone for business.
Thing #3 that we should have had already: Screen capture
This has been one of my biggest pet peeves about Android. How had they not implemented screen grabbing until now? I shouldn’t have to have a bunch of third party apps and jump through hoops just to show you guys some sweet stuff here on TalkAndroid (but I’ll do it anyway, because I love all you…except that guy reading over your shoulder with you. You’re not helping with our traffic). Thankfully this has been righted and I can finally just snap a picture on the fly.
Thing #4 that you should be excited about: Face unlocking
Let me say that I personally am not too excited about this. But this is largely because I don’t lock my phone. For those of you that do lock your phone, this is a nice step in the innovative direction. While a lot of other devices have been doing this for years and third party apps sort of did it on Android before, the fact that they bought a company to work on this specifically is a great move by Google and an even better benefit for us as a consumer. While the feature will still get some work done on it (I find it funny that the only time people reported it not working was during the presentation), it’s a great base for more to come. Perhaps in time our phone will be able to have different layouts depending on who the phone sees is using it? The sky is the limit.
Thing #4 that is merely an improvement: Speech to text as you dictate
I didn’t want to say “we should already have that” because that’s not true, this didn’t seem like quite enough of an upgrade to merit “Map, I’m so excited for this” status. It’s definitely cool that you can now see your speech as you speak it. The common practice was (and still is) to say the entire thing and let the phone catch up at the end. It’s nice to be able to check your progress as you speak rather than have to read the entire thing at the end. The added punctuation dictation and other goodies is also a plus. Either way, I don’t see voice input advancements as major sellers yet (*glares at Siri*). I definitely think they can be (and Apple’s Siri is close), but as of right now they just seem like common upgrades to me.
Thing #5 that you should be excited about: No physical buttons
Can you say screen real estate? I sure as hell can, and apparently so can Samsung. That gorgeous 4.65″ can now fit on the body of what was essentially a 4.3″ before now that there are no physical buttons on the front. I was wondering whether Apple or Google would bring this to us first (Steve Jobs’ distaste for the home button grew apparent in the iPhone’s later years), and I’m happy Google took the step. While the security of having a hard buttons can be reassuring (“crap! crap! My phone’s not responding! *mashes home button until something happens*), it’s hard to argue with results. Did I mention that gorgeous screen?
Thing #5 that you should be so irritated about that you should personally throw an Ice Cream Sandwich at a stranger: Hardware acceleration
And on the fourth installment on Android, Google said let there be speed. Have you ever noticed why iDevices are notoriously fast with your finger? Like your actually scrolling a page and not just gesturing a scroll? You can largely thank hardware acceleration for that. Despite the A# chip of the iPhone being slower when maxed out than the monsters that TI, Qualcomm, and company dish out (don’t even argue on this one Apple fans), the iPhone still seems to “lag” less than Android beasts. With hardware acceleration, Android vendors can really start taking advantage of those eleventy billion GHz quintuple core processors (or whatever they’re on now) they use in their phones. So much of that processing power was wasted. Now (read: FINALLY) hardware acceleration has finally been implemented on Android. Why this didn’t happen a year ago I don’t know. But it’s finally here.
Thing #6 you should be excited about: A more integrated system
What’s that mean? Android apps will no longer seem as fragmented. Universal swiping gestures is a welcomed experience. And while several people would argue that Android should have done this a while ago, I would like to ask “Why did they need to?” Even iOS apps have billions of different layouts at times. The menu button in one is rarely located at the same place as the other. Google fought this by making the home, menu, search, and back button universal. Now that those are “gone” Google decided to make as much universal as they possibly could. In general, the tightness of ICS impressed a lot of people. Apps might be able to interact with your phone natively even better now (the social app they demoed for example). Kudos to Google for deciding to step up how easy it is for developers to implement system wide changes, when the Android platform was widely considered the best at doing that anyway.
Thing #6 we ripped from Apple should have already had: Folder drag
Yeah, we stole something from iOS; deal with it. I shouldn’t have had to long press to create a folder for this long. Apple showed how easy it was to drag apps on top of each other, why did Google take so long to respond?
So there you have it. What are you most excited about with ICS?