Inside Ice Cream Sandwich: unannounced features and APIs

Inside Ice Cream Sandwich: unannounced features and APIs
We mentioned last night that the Google/Samsung announcement felt like it was missing some things. The products and improvements shown all looked great, but we just knew that there would be more to it than what made it into that original announcement. We were right. 

In the announcement of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich last night, Google showed off some of the more consumer-focused features like the improved UI, and UI consistency, the vastly improved camera app, social aggregation in the People app, Face Unlock (not technically showed off, but still), a better real-time voice input engine, a data usage monitor and more. Google also made small remarks here and there that there were some powerful new APIs behind a lot of these features, and that there was more that wasn't being shown off. We're getting information now about the various new features that will be available in Ice Cream Sandwich that weren't announced last night. 

There are a lot of features that aren't exactly new to Android, but are new to Android phones. These are features that were in Honeycomb that will now be making the transition to handsets, because unlike previous phone versions of Android, ICS was built on Honeycomb then had phone support added in, rather than the other way around. The Honeycomb features that will be noticeable to the average user were mostly shown off in last night's announcement. These include: resizeable/scrollable widgets, multi-select on items, drag and drop (like with highlighted text), richer notifications, and a centralized clipboard. There are also a ton of under-the-hood improvements from Honeycomb that come along like: Android Open Accessory support meaning you can plug in any USB device like a game controller, mouse or keyboard. There will also be hardware acceleration for 2D graphics, 3D renderscript graphics, HTTP live streaming, and a number of enterprise features, including: encryption for all the data on your device. 

New APIs and services

We dug through the Android 4.0 SDK development highlights to let you know what else will be available. There are a ton of new tools for developers, so we'll try to stick with the big additions. One of the biggest being hardware acceleration. If an app is written for API level 14 (ICS), hardware acceleration is turned-on by default, which means we can expect smoother performance in apps (once they are written for ICS of course. That may not happen until Android 5.5 comes out though.)

Full data encryption isn't the only thing that enterprise users can look forward to on ICS handsets. Google has also added tools so applications can now create Virtual Private Networks (VPN). There is also a new device policy option so applications can restrict access to the camera, as well as APIs for managing keychains. 


On the more fun side of things (aka things that non-enterprise users care about), there are a ton of new APIs. Google already mentioned a bit on the social APIs which allow data to be aggregated in the People app including profile data, and posts to various networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. But, the options there are deeper and will even allow you to add connections to certain social networks through a new Invite Intent. 


Not only will ICS support USB devices as was first shown off with Android 3.1, but there are new APIs for handling keyboard, mouse, and stylus input. The new APIs allow for auto-detection of what type of input is being used (finger, stylus, etc), and adapt as necessary. Developers will also be able to access dictionary and spell-check features with these other forms of input, which should be a big boost even for users with QWERTY sliders, because until now there hadn't been any auto-correct options for sliders.  But, the best part is there is a new "hover" event available. This has been a big issue especially with Flash-based web apps, where many are designed for use with a mouse, but on Android there had been no way to deal with any hover interactions. Unfortunately, it seems as though this hover event will only be available when using a mouse or other device that "drive[s] an on-screen cursor". 

ICS also includes improvements which should allow developers to more easily implement text-to-speech in apps. 


We've talked about the new camera app, but Google is actually making many of the photo editing options available to any developer. Many of the new editing options are being done through OpenGL, so developers will be able to add functionality in apps to fix red-eye, convert an image to grayscale, adjust brightness, adjust saturation, rotate an image, apply a fisheye effect, and more. 

Another great feature is the new remote control client, which will allow you to control media player playback from a remote client. This could mean more interaction between Android devices and traditional PCs, but the direct effect for mobile users will be that developers will be able to add media player controls, playback info and album art to the Android lockscreen. This is a great new feature, and one that makes us wonder if the rumors that the Cyanogen team has been working with Google on ICS may be true. 

Wireless options

Android Beam isn't the only new wireless option available in ICS. The biggest addition is in WiFi Direct, which will allow Android devices to connect through an ad hoc peer-to-peer wireless connection. So, for ultra-close range, you'll have NFC to initiate transfers, at mid-ranges there is Bluetooth, and for longer range connections (and higher speeds) there is now WiFi Direct. This could allow users to transfer larger amounts of data over longer ranges, but there's a good chance that this protocol will become part of the backbone of Google's planned Android@Home project. 

Bluetooth has also gotten a boost in ICS, and now supports Health Profile devices. This opens the door for devices like heart-rate monitors, blood meters, thermometers, and scales.

Update: New sensor support

It turns out we missed some pretty cool new sensor options that are available in ICS. Of course, we know that Android already supports a slew of sensors including: accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer/altimeter, compass, light sensor, and proximity. Well, Android 4.0 has improved the latency and output for the gyroscope in regards to gravity, rotation, and linear acceleration. This should greatly improve gyroscope accuracy. 

Additionally, Google has added support for two new sensor types: temperature and humidity. Each of these would allow your Android device to get readings from the surrounding air for ambient temperature (in degrees Celsius) and humidity (in percent). Once these sensors start hitting devices, we could start seeing some amazing new data for weather maps, which could crowd source hyperlocal temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure readings. Unfortunately, that won't exactly be enough to let you predict the weather. We talked to a meteorologist, and he said the two most important factors are temperature and wind readings. Still, it'll be pretty cool to have hyperlocal temperature and humidity ratings, while the barometer will still likely just be used as an altimeter. 

Disabling apps

Not all the additions are coming through additions to the SDK. There are also some improvements in ICS that didn't make the announcement last night, but are part of the stock OS. There have been more UI improvements that weren't mentioned like a redesign to the Downloads Manager and the Settings menu, but possibly the biggest new option of them all is disabling apps.

This seems like much more of a power-user feature, but that's exactly what our audience likes to hear. There is a new feature in Ice Cream Sandwich allowing users to completely disable apps, even those baked-in to Android. This means you can restrict an app from using any resources or even showing up in the launcher. This can be used on stock Android apps like Messaging, if you use Google Voice primarily, but even better it can be used on carrier and manufacturer bloatware.

It's unclear right now whether this will be an option that carriers and manufacturers will be able to disable, much like they have in the past with tethering, WiFi hotspots, and sideloading apps, but this could be a huge win for users who hate bloat, but don't want to or don't have the confidence to root their device. This is another feature that makes us think it may be more likely that the Cyanogen team has been working with Google, but we'll have to see how it works. 

We'll be bringing you more features as they become available, but as you can see Ice Cream Sandwich is more than just a UI overhaul. This is a major OS release with a ton of new features for both users and developers.



1. MalakiMills

Posts: 257; Member since: Jun 15, 2010

After the announcement last night I was wondering what they were talking about by saying "you won't believe how much we managed to fit into ice cream sandwich". Well now I guess I know! Excellent upgrade that will sit nicely on an excellent phone. (and will be sitting comfortably in my pocket in november :) )

23. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

The best way for manufacturers and carriers to screw up ICS will be to modify it. I really hope that the ability to disable apps is not able to be 'disabled' by carriers or manufacturers. Props to Michael for a great article so quickly after the release.

25. Phullofphil

Posts: 1823; Member since: Feb 10, 2009

I atliest hope it makes the carriers put in software that we actually want. Of course the worst ones are trial apps such as what ever that racing game was or stuff like blockbuster. Its that they get allot of money to put those apps in there. The visual voice mail and Verizon navigator are others. It's just after paying so much money for phone survive adding 4 dollars for voice mail what ever navigator cost which is probley ten dollars. You got Verizon video and the worst is hotspot. We know we can go on and on about the double charging of hotspot. But I mean if you had all that stuff your family phone bill are gona reach $400dollars a month no problem. What do they expect. I really like the idea that you have your phone for voice. Get charged for Internet. And I guess even text even though it is all the same thing. I think a hot spot is like having a router at home should not be charged. I believe your media should come Crome your tv provider. Who licenses for the content. So if you have cable make it so that service is available on your phone. Maybe renting movies is different but any any way as all thes technologies merge into one thing as in basically I see everything in the future being Internet and cloud based that we should not be charged for stuff more than once. Now I am getting off subject. My simple desire is for all carriers and manufactures let google or who ever handle the operating system and software. If you want to put something on there make it a option to down load or basically have the ability to ref lash a sence or touch wiz version if we want. Just restore and or when you get your phone at first when you restart have the option to have those manufacture or carrier over lays an option. Sorry I am done for now

34. SweetLou

Posts: 17; Member since: Oct 20, 2011

good luck sir...unless manufacturers can bully the carriers around into not adding that bloat its not going to happen. In other words, don't get your hopes up.

2. Tmachaveli

Posts: 425; Member since: Apr 01, 2011

Wow now thats what im talking about

3. som

Posts: 768; Member since: Nov 10, 2009

Galaxy Nexus body is too long Samsung should make it rectangle edge to edge screen display and leave little space on top and bottom for speaker and camera.

5. Synack

Posts: 688; Member since: Jul 05, 2011

Then it would be a SGS2....

6. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

That would likely also alter the optimal 16:9 aspect ratio it's got now.


Posts: 3131; Member since: Jan 12, 2010

The device looks fine to me. It's not too tall, not too narrow, but not too wide either.

36. PimpStrong

Posts: 310; Member since: Jul 25, 2011

I hope 16:9 isn't the new trend. I don't want a skinny screen like on the Sensation.

41. roldefol

Posts: 4744; Member since: Jan 28, 2011

I find the "skinny" screen is more comfortable to hold. 16:9 720p makes so much sense for video anyway.

14. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

looks perfectly sexy to me :)

4. Synack

Posts: 688; Member since: Jul 05, 2011

Yeah good to hear.

7. maxican16

Posts: 364; Member since: Sep 29, 2011

The closer iOS gets, the further Google pushes Android. Awesome.

24. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

So true. For that reason, I hope Apple is successful with iOS. Because Android then becomes so much more better.

31. arcq12

Posts: 733; Member since: Oct 13, 2011

Apple is already successful with their iOS aren't they?

35. SweetLou

Posts: 17; Member since: Oct 20, 2011

nope, 4 mill handsets opening weekend is failure sir!


Posts: 701; Member since: Jun 07, 2011

yea def. getting the nexus with 4.0.. This phone will really let you take advantage of ice cream sandwich

9. henrickrw

Posts: 408; Member since: Sep 16, 2011

Can{t wait to put this on my GS2

10. NeXoS

Posts: 292; Member since: May 03, 2011

FYI, Phone Arena, your website uses HOVER too. In fact, almost all websites use some type of mouseover event.

12. SuperMECD

Posts: 11; Member since: Oct 19, 2011

which is why i'm pissed whenever apple-toyboys try to explain that adobe flash wasn't necessary for webbroswing

13. clevername

Posts: 1436; Member since: Jul 11, 2008

For most sites like this flash isn't necessary. For example on any windows phone or ios device, to mimic a hover event on phonearena and many other sitestap and hold an area. For example on my focus, when I want to thumb up or reply I tap and hold the comment, the icons then appear. Just as if I had hovered. Another way, and maybe a cheat is to tap the giver area and then tap the x to stop loading the page immediately. Then the hover menu will pop up.

15. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

that's a lot of extra work for something that is basic functionality these days :)

20. clevername

Posts: 1436; Member since: Jul 11, 2008

Holding my finger on your comment for half a second to make the thumb and reply options pop up is a lot of extra work? Really?

27. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

i would already be replying in that half a second. this is tech.. seconds are important.

16. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

all i can say, is this news makes me even more excited. You can keep your Siri that you will use for 5 days and get bored with... I'll take... aaaaaall this!! :) basically they just turned the phone into a tablet into a computer.. full plug in gamepad/ keyboard n mouse support in the phone? (if they have an input jack, which I'm assuming we will see one or 2 in the future.. like a Note sized phone) Win cyanogen tinerking? Win Adding all this functionality on top of everything else? super win. Do you really think it was a direct cyanogen tinker with the OS, or do you thing google is listening to what their core audience wants? A lot of this stuff like freezing apps have been part of the modding community since the G1. As big as android's modding community is, im sure it has to have some sway on the features list.. regardless if it was the mass's sway or cyanogen himself, im excited that its part of android's core now.

22. protozeloz

Posts: 5396; Member since: Sep 16, 2010

As I said on the past google is good at information management, indexing the whole web serves its purposes. For them is easy to see on what needs attention and see what can be done about it. I think most stuff people hated on android are gone, more tweaks here and there and will make many happyer

28. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

i can very much agree with that. :)

17. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

hey Proto, remember how I was talking about my need to break my XDA addiction? I think ICS might really be the answer :)

19. vantenkiest

Posts: 316; Member since: Apr 20, 2011

LIES! you cant escape the XDA you know they will come up with something that will have you tinkering yourself in about a month... I think i will wait on the next ICS device.. the SD Card Slot is way too important to me. I wont spend 4 hours transfering ALL MY MUSIC PICS DOCS PDFs no no no no Its all on my 16 gb sd .. i wanna pop that in and be done. other than that little hicup I love the nexus so far... I cant wait till i get to play with ICS SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO Excited

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