Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich: 5 Most-Wanted Features

Google and Samsung are primed to reveal the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS Tuesday evening. Here's what I really want.
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich has been a long time coming. Not counting Android 3.x Honeycomb, Google hasn't updated its base Android operating system for smartphones since late 2010. It's high time Google revealed some juicy new software. It is going to do so with Samsung at an event in Asia that will start late Tuesday evening on the East Coast of the United States.

Skipping any talk about the hardware that may or may not be included in the Ice Cream Sandwich announcement, here's what we hope to see from Android 4.0.

1. Unified User Interface / More Polish: Google needs to take control of Android's overall look and feel back from its hardware partners--at least for the core applications. The user interface is already starting to look dated, and HTC and Samsung in particular are doing a better job of creating alternative skins to make Android look more attractive and useful. Google needs to make the same commitment to the details that its partners have, because as thrilling as the stock Android builds are, they are bordering on 1960s science fiction in their spartan-iety.

Under this heading we can also suggest that Google bring several Honeycomb features--such as the multitasking tool, Gmail, and the better tabbed browsing experience--to Ice Cream Sandwich.

[Learn about 10 Great Android Apps For Collaboration.]

2. Enterprise-Grade Security: Security is one place where Google has failed with its Android platform. Granted, there are plenty of personal security options (pattern locks, passwords, etc.), and a number of basic business options, but hardcore enterprise-level security is still missing. As a result, the Android Market is crawling with malware and businesses are afraid to take a chance.

The lack of good security has spawned an entire industry of third-party apps that attempt to do what Android cannot--make handsets easy to lock, easy to find, and easy to wipe remotely. The result has been slower enterprise adoption for Google's Android. UBM, InformationWeek's parent organization, doesn't allow Android handsets as corporate devices because of the security concerns.

The Android Market, for example, would be a great place to start. Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich would do well to include a much better set of IT-approved tools for managing devices.

3. Native Video Chat: Android 3.x Honeycomb tablets and a very few select Android 2.3 Gingerbread devices support Google Talk with Video Chat. Google needs to bake this functionality into the platform and make it work across all devices that have the proper hardware support. Apple's FaceTime works between iPhones, iPads, iPod's Touch, and its Mac computers. Google needs to catch up because--no offense Skype, Vringo, Qik, et al.--the third-party solutions only go so far.

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich has to have nothing less than full support for Google Talk Video Chat across and between all Android devices and the desktop versions of Google Talk.

4. Improved Browser: The Android platform's browser is second only to the iPhone's Safari browser--but it shouldn't be. The core of the Android browser has remained virtually unchanged since Android 1.0 and the HTC G1. Sure, some handset makers have dressed it up a bit here and there and given it a handful of new and/or useful tools such as visual bookmarks, but the base performance of the browser is getting old.

The browser has received some incremental updates with each new version of Android, but it badly needs significant new features, such as boosted HTML5 performance, improved JavaScript wouldn't hurt, and a revised set of software buttons would be a welcome addition, too. While we're at it, shove some native social networking support in there for good measure.

Even better, replace the Android browser entirely with a scaled-down version of Google's excellent desktop browser, Chrome.

5. Master Inbox: Android 2.x and 3.x support multiple email accounts, including two separate Exchange accounts, two Gmail accounts, and other POP3/IMAP4 email services. While switching between the different inboxes isn't the worst experience, it could be better.

That's why creating a master email inbox that covers all email platforms could be a boon to those who have to manage multiple accounts from one device.

Even better, a master messaging box that supports text/picture messages, Google Talk instant messages, Twitter DMs, and Facebook email would be fantastic. Some OEMs (notably Motorola) have tried to do this, but haven't quite made it work perfectly.

Will Google address these changes during tonight's press conference? We'll find out starting at 10 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday.

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Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer