13 new Android Ice Cream Sandwich features that boost tablet productivity

January 6, 2012

With Ice Cream Sandwich expected to be a prominent feature at next week’s CES exhibition in Las Vegas, TabTimes decided it was high time to take a look at the various ways tablet productivity will be enhanced through Google's newest OS.

Ice Cream Sandwich has a slick UI, improved multi-tasking
In the release of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), Google has considerably improved the general user interface, allowing users to navigate their tablet with a raft of new gestures. This user experience has also been enhanced by advancements in text entry (more on that later) and multi-tasking, with the new Recent Apps button enabling Ice Cream Sandwich users to quickly jump from one task to another via the Systems Bar.

The home screen is now organized into folders and favorites
Tablets and smartphones running Android 4.0 now have a way to group together your favorite apps and shortcuts. As you would with iOS, users will simply have to drag files on top of each other to start a folder. Smaller-screen devices will also be able to include a customizable favourite tray right from the home screen.

NFC is supported for mobile payments
Although only available for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus at present, Google's ‘Android Beam’ hopes to change the way smartphone and tablet users share data.

The technology allows new devices with near-field communication (NFC) technology to send and receive money, as well as instantly swap photos, videos or even news articles, simply by 'bumping' the two devices together.

Facial recognition is used to unlock your tablet
‘Face Unlock’ is Google’s rather nifty facial recognition technology which enables users to unlock their phone or tablet just by looking into the front-facing camera.

This marks a significant improvement over the cumbersome slide lock, and could also a great way to safeguard tablets from the hands of thieves. Note: The initial reaction to Face Unlock has been mixed, with even Google saying that this form of ID is not as secure as a PIN or lock pattern.

Finally: On-device encryption for corporate security
Ice Cream Sandwich now supports on-device encryption, meaning that any corporate data stored locally will be encrypted. This is a great tool for anyone using their Android 4.0 device for work. It also means that IT departments don't have to roll their own encryption stacks.

New Calendar features and flexibility
The multi-tasking theme of Ice Cream Sandwich extends to new calendar features, which allow users to keep on top of different agendas. It even allows third-party apps to integrate with your calendar, adding events and reminders.

Improved text input
The new OS brings some significant improvements when it comes to typing. A new soft keyboard has been implemented, which features the easy-to-decipher Roboto font, as opposed to the rather stale Droid Serif used in most Android 2x devices. Google claims that the new text entry format allows for faster and more accurate typing, and has also revealed that it has added more dictionaries to its word suggestion database. There's still no split keyboard, however. 

Enhanced voice assistance
Voice assistance is not a new feature on Google’s mobile operating system, but Google claims to have improved the technology for better dictation, which should make composing emails or searching for a contact.  easier. It's not Siri, but it's getting close.

Web browsing is faster and has more features
Gone are the days of the limited mobile browser, at least in the eyes of Google. Ice Cream Sandwich lets users sync and manage Google Chrome bookmarks, and save content for offline reading. Users can also request full desktop versions of websites, increase the browser zoom levels, and override default text sizes for better readability.

Google says that the Android Browser also dramatically improves page-rendering performance, creating a faster overall browsing experience.

Email keeps getting better
Google has made some steady improvements with email on Android 4.0, with the search giant now promising to help people find contacts more quickly via auto-completion when composing email.

Replying to emails has also been improved, with Google saying that ICS users are able to store common responses (e.g – 'I am out of the office') in the email app for rapid response. When replying to emails, users are also now able to toggle between ‘Reply All’ or ‘Forward', without having to change screens.

Google's email focus also extends to Gmail, with reviewers saying that it is now easier to attach files and photos. However, the most significant enhancement to Gmail is the ability for users to read emails and swipe between conversations, all while offline.

The People app brings all contact details to one place
The People app (re-named from Contacts) works by pulling all contact details into individual 'contact cards'. These cards show your contact’s photos, videos, and status activity as well as their latest movements on Google+ and any other social networking platform.

Flexible widgets
The inclusion of interactive widgets will allow users to get live content at their fingertips, without having to step into individual apps. The beauty of these widgets is that they are now resizable, allowing smartphone or tablet owners to choose how much information they see, and how much home screen real estate the widget takes up.

One app for smartphones and tablets
Ice Cream Sandwich will be huge for developers, and is the first Google operating system to tailor for both smartphones and tablets. This means that, rather than developing different applications for smartphone and tablet, developers will be able to push one app to all form factors. This doesn't necessarily mean that one app will work well on all screen sizes, however.

And some other notable improvements…
There’s now instant access from the home screen to the camera, which also offers automatic face detection, a panorama feature and a digital zoom slider.

The gallery has also been enhanced with improved editing, while videos now support 1080p, continuous autofocus and the ability to zoom while recording.

Finally, Ice Cream Sandwich supports Wi-Fi Direct, which lets users connect directly to nearby peer devices over Wi-Fi, for more reliable, higher-speed communication. No Internet connection or tethering is required.



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