The user interface on Ice Cream Sandwich has received a great deal of attention. It has the similar robotic theme of previous Android versions and reminds strongly of Honeycomb with it’s dark blue theme and similar UI elements.
Google is using a new typeface on Ice Cream Sandwich, called Roboto, which replaces the original Droid typeface found on previous versions of Android. There are also some new animations and transition effects and a new swipe gesture that works across the OS and lets you remove items from a list simply by swiping on it horizontally.
The Ice Cream Sandwich UI has a cool, modern look to it that is in a different class altogether compared to the classic, almost timeless look of iOS and the bold and sophisticated look of Windows Phone 7. It remains to be seen, however, if it will age as well as the other two, especially iOS. But if it ever gets boring, you can always change it. That’s the good thing about Android.
Now let’s talk about the new features and improvements in the UI.
Ice Cream Sandwich borrows heavily from Honeycomb when it comes to the new multitasking UI. You press the dedicated Recent Apps button at the bottom of the screen, which brings a vertical stack of thumbnails for the recently opened apps.
The thumbnails show actual screenshots of the app instead of just their icons, which makes them easier to identify and see the state you left them in. Apps can be closed simply by swiping them off the screen.
The notifications screen now shows you icons next to the notification, such as the picture of the person who tried to call or message you. You can even control the default music player from the notification screen without having to switch apps.
Notifications can now be removed from the screen one at a time and all you have to do is swipe on them to remove them from the list. Lastly, the notifications screen can now be accessed from the lock screen as well, so you can see your notifications without having to unlock your phone.
The lock screen now lets you jump directly to the camera app from the homescreen, simply by dragging the lock icon to the camera icon. This functionality was found in Android phones from HTC and Samsung before but it’s nice to see it built-into Android. Having said that it’s a lot simpler in comparison and only works with the camera app for now. It would have been nice to add other applications to the lock screen, as HTC allows you to do.
A new feature in Ice Cream Sandwich lets you unlock your phone using your face. Once the phone knows what you look like, all you have to do is point the phone at your face for it to recognize and unlock the phone for you. This saves the hassle of remembering passwords and is more secure than a simple lock screen. It did not work as intended during the demo but we’re hopeful that the final version of the software would be better.
Although Android had folder support before, creating and managing folders wasn’t as simple and intuitive as it is in iOS. This changes with Ice Cream Sandwich because the folders are now vastly improved. You can drag and drop application icons on the homescreen on one another to create a new folder or directly drag an app into an existing folder. Tapping a folder shows you the contents within and you can even drag the icons around inside the folder.
Ice Cream Sandwich also comes with a new favorites tray, which is like a dock found at the bottom of the screen. In previous smartphone versions of Android, you would have two, non-customizable icons at the bottom of the screen flanking the application drawer button. Now you can have four icons there and they can be of your choice.
In fact you can even drag a folder from the homescreen onto the favourites tray, which gives you access to more than four apps. The favorites tray remains constant at the bottom of the screen regardless of whichever homescreen you may be in.
Another carryover feature from Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich allows you to resize widgets on your screen, which lets you manage space better. This feature makes a lot more sense on a smartphone than a tablet due to the relatively small screen. Also, in Ice Cream Sandwich, the widgets now appear in a separate section in the application drawer and you can preview them before applying.