News Analysis: Samsung introduced its new Galaxy Nexus smartphone with Google's latest Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" operating system with much fanfare. Ice Cream Sandwich is supposed to be a unifying platform for Android. But this identity may be obscured by the dense universe of Android versions and devices out in the wild.
Google announced its latest
version of the Android mobile operating system in Hong Kong this week, and in
the process might have left more questions than answers. The Samsung Galaxy
Nexus, which runs the Android
4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich"
operating system, will have new features such as the
ability to unlock itself by looking at its owner, take panoramic photos and
provide Google+ access in the same way as Gmail is built into current Android
But perhaps more important
is that this new OS is designed to bring the two disparate segments of the
Android universe into one platform. Currently, phones run Android 2.x as do
some tablets. Other tablets run Android 3.x (Honeycomb). Ice
is aimed at supporting both types of devices.
Right now, ICS
only runs on the Galaxy Nexus
, but Motorola reports that its just-released
Droid RAZR will get an upgrade to Android 4 in a month or two. Or maybe longer.
With Android updates, nothing is ever certain until it happens. Sometimes an
update clearly will never happen. Honeycomb, for example, will never come to
phones because it's designed for tablets.
There's been some criticism
of the Nexus because of its slower-than-expected processor speeds and its
lower-than-expected camera resolution. This criticism is mostly misplaced. A
high-resolution camera that sits behind an optical system that's limited in its
capability mostly results in large files that show poor images. Poor image
software will make this worse, but even if the image-processing software is
perfect, the limitations of lenses in a phone produce limits in image quality.
Perhaps Samsung is simply recognizing this limitation.
Some of the new
Android 4 features
, such as facial recognition, are also of limited
usefulness. Despite what you might see on television, really accurate, really
fast, facial recognition is a very tough job. I suspect that this is one of
those cool features that people mostly won't use because it mostly won't work.
While it's easier to create software that can recognize one, and only one,
face, it's still unreliable as Google representatives demonstrated during their
demo when this feature didn't work.
In reality, the best thing
about ICS is that it's supposed to be a unified platform. Device manufacturers
and carriers should only have to worry about one software platform that runs on
all their devices. This would be nice if it reflected reality.
But the reality is that phone
makers and wireless carriers have to support a universe of Android devices
ranging from Android 1.x and 2.x on smartphones, Android 2.x on smartphones and
some tablets, and Android 3.x on tablets.