In May, Google announced the release of Android 4.0, codenamed Ice Cream Sandwich. It was officially launched in October but the first device running 4.0 – the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Google’s flagship phone – wasn’t launched until last week.
Those new features?
First of all, visual voicemail has finally come to the Android platform along with the ability to speed up or slow down messages – helpful when someone rattles off their phone number at lightning speed. We also get a new way of transferring data between phones in Android Beam which uses NFC. Face Unlock uses facial recognition to unlock the phone although this falls back to an unlock code in low light. Google have also added the ability to launch apps from the lock screen – a feature already seen in HTC phones running Sense 3.0 and above.
Ice Cream Sandwich comes packed with exciting features as well as some improvements on some Android favourites. Of course, the release comes with a mountain of articles about increasing Android fragmentation and why the iPhone is still king. The constant one-upmanship between iOS and Android fans has got dull but the fragmentation argument is still interesting. Why? Because it’s largely irrelevant.
Yes, the platform is fragmented and if you want to take advantage of the latest features, you’ll find that you are preventing the vast majority of Android users from downloading your app. This can be turned on its head – if you don’t want to use the very latest features then you can target more users, and this is true of hardware innovations as well. Generally developers don’t complain about increases in processor speed, they take advantage if they feel that it’s worthwhile and accept that not all processors will cope with their app.
Google’s Android Developer website lets developers easily see the current distribution
of the Android platform as well as the distribution of screensizes so they don’t have to run the risk of developing for a small audience. Google have also made sure that users can’t download apps meant for a higher version of Android than they have on their handset so developers who want to write for 4.0 phones can without risking poor reviews which a user running 2.2 can’t run it. Unfortunately developers still run into problems with custom UIs installed by OEMs but in general, these are designed to be compatible with the OS – after all, if a phone doesn’t run app downloaded from the Android market, the OEM isn’t likely to sell many of them.
However, fragmentation is actually good for the users. For those of us that don’t want to have the same phone as everyone else, isn’t it better for us to be able to pick a phone with a different user interface or a faster processor or if we want it, an unlocked bootloader? Fragmentation is choice and choice is good.