Google has released the source code for Google Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. The operating system is designed to run on phones and tablets, and this is the first time Google has released the source code for a tablet-friendly version of the operating system.
The company never felt that Android 3.x Honeycomb was ready to run on smartphones, so Google held onto the source code and only made it available to trusted partners that were working on Android tablets.
The code being released today is designed specifically for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which will be the first device to run Android 4.0. But it probably won’t take long for developers to start modifying the code so that it can work with other devices.
We’ll likely start to see the latest Android operating system show up on new phones and tablets. Asus has already said that although the Eee Pad Transformer Prime tablet will ship in December with Android 3.2 Honeycomb, the company will soon offer an Ice Cream Sandwich update. And Motorola and HTC have already revealed plans to bring ICS to a number of smartphones.
And independent developers will probably start creating custom ROMs that brings the new operating system’s features to existing devices soon.
The developers behind the popular CyanogenMod project usually need a few months to incorporate a major Android update into their software, so it will probably be a while before we see Android on the HP TouchPad or NOOK Color. But we’ve already seen a handful of Ice Cream Sandwich ports for existing phones and tablets — and those were just based on the Android 4.0 emulator included in Google’s software developer kit.
The source code should allow developers to create much better ROMs — even for devices that may never officially be supported. For instance, Google officials have said that the company won’t release Android 4.0 for the nearly 2-year-old Google Nexus One smartphone. I have no doubt that some independent developer will do it though.
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich includes a new user interface that bridges the gap between current Android phones and tablets. There are on-screen buttons for home, back, and recent apps functions. This paves the way for phones that don’t have any physical buttons at the bottom of the screen.
The keyboard has been tweaked to work on phones and tablets and there’s a new spell-checking feature built into the operating system. Google has also improved voice recognition in the operating system so that you never have to pause and wait for your device to catch up. It will convert your speech to text as you talk.
The web browser now has incognito mode that lets you surf the web without the browser saving your history. Users can also synchronize browser bookmarks between a mobile device and the Google Chrome web browser on their desktop computer. And Google now lets users choose to view full desktop versions of any web page in case you don’t want to see the mobile-optimized version.
Google has also made a number of updates to some of the default apps. There’s a new People app which replaces the Android contact manager with a new one which does a better job of integrating social networking and photos, and the camera and Gmail apps have received major updates.
You can find more details about Android 4.0 at Mobiputing.