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When you come to talking about a major revision to the most popular smartphone operating system, it’s hard to find a place to start because there is simply so much to cover. Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” is perhaps the second largest step Android has taken in terms of major revisions, the largest of course being Android 2.0 back in 2009 which brought a wealth of new features.

Ice Cream Sandwich (or ICS) has included a huge amount of things to Android, from a new design and unified stylings to new functionality and features. Google has followed in the footsteps of Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” for tablets by shifting to blue as the primary color, as opposed to green in Android 2.3 “Gingerbread”. The blue design glows in a somewhat futuristic way, and interface elements are squarer and more angled than before.

Throughout all stock applications on ICS is seems like they have gone for several major styles, most of which differ to previous versions:

Sharp angles and lines are commonplace. In the app drawer, around the search bar, under the text entry bay and even in the onscreen buttons, smooth curves or gradients have been replaced with single-color lines and sharp corners. The Roboto font is modern and clean. Thanks to the 720p display on the Nexus, it appears very sharp and it’s very easy to read. The sans-serif and simple design makes it feel at home in a 2011/2012 world. Black, grey and blue are the colors used, along with transparency. The notification pane uses blue/grey icons on a black background, sliding it down reveals a semi-transparent background with blue highlights. In apps, buttons are grey on semi-transparent black with blue highlights.

For the first time in my history of using Android (and I’ve used it since the Google G1), a unification has been achieved. It is absolutely essential these days in a mobile operating system that moving between included applications feels like you are still “in” the OS, and never before has Google achieved this.

With Gingerbread Google may have updated the Calendar to a new style, but left Gmail with the same style from original Android. It was an awful mess of old and new, but going through ICS feels like everything is in place. I always see the same button styles, the same layouts, the same designs and the same colors used in every single included application, and it actually makes me smile at an Android design for once.

Now this may be somewhat controversial, but I really believe that the push to the ICS style was due to the threat of Windows Phone. Using Windows Phone’s style is simply outstanding because every single application uses the Metro design language, so browsing from Messaging to the Browser feels like you haven’t left Microsoft’s world. Fonts are crisp and clean, designs are angled and minimalistic and there is a focus on text over imagery.

Of course not everything in Metro has influenced Android, in fact many, many things are quite different, but it seems more obvious than ever before how influential Microsoft have been in the mobile space. In all honesty, I don’t care that Google borrowed some aspects of Windows Phone, such as the angular design, minimalist icons and swiping panes, because in the tech industry this happens all the time.

The point is Ice Cream Sandwich feels like the first Android revision that actually has a style. A proper, unified and beautiful style that feels modern, clean and even futuristic. I love it, almost to the point where it pushes out Windows Phone from my mobile OS design preference.

Thanks: Neowin & Tim Schiesser

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