Mobility

Five ways ICS changes your Android experience

Thanks to Ice Cream Sandwich, Donovan Colbert says it's time to revisit how we interact with our devices and unlearn some habits that are no longer necessary.

No OS is perfect. Android devices have been hampered by both hardware and OS limitations, and users have had to work around those challenges. With the release of Android 4.x (Ice Cream Sandwich - ICS), we're seeing more powerful devices and a more efficient OS platform. Those two factors combined means that it's time to revisit how we interact with our devices and unlearn some habits that are no longer necessary.

1: Use your Android smartphone or device more like a PC — switching between apps, cutting and pasting, and generally enjoying a more desktop-like experience

Previously, there were things that were just too difficult or unreliable to attempt. There were frequent times when I would see a link or want to share something when I was mobile, but I would wait until I returned to a real PC to actually do the task. Recently, with the Galaxy Nexus and my ASUS Transformer, I've realized that ICS allows me to do those things while I'm mobile. The days of struggling to copy a link, switch to another application (having to wait too long for the app to switch or load), then trying to paste it in that other app, and sometimes having the whole phone go unresponsive are behind us. If you'd already given up on Android to accomplish these kinds of tasks, you really should give it a shot again.

2: Dispose of unnecessary widgets and shortcuts

There has always been a large market for designing utilities that enhance the desktop experience. All OS platforms tend to evolve by incorporating many of those after-market utilities directly into the platform, and Android is no exception. There are a lot of significant interface enhancements in ICS, and one of my favorite on my Transformer is how the new notification bar brings up a "Power Widget" style panel. This controls screen orientation, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Speaker, Refresh, GPS, and Brightness. It also includes a battery level display and a Settings button. When you share a photo from the gallery, in addition to a drop-down list of share destinations, if you have Dropbox installed, there will be an icon that allows you to send the picture there directly. Lastly, there are a ton of built-in shortcuts that reduce the resources required and make your experience less cluttered. Make sure you're not still doing things the old way, when there are improved methods now available.

3: Better access to web-based versions of your native apps

In the past, if I wasn't able to do something in the native app on a site like Facebook or Google Plus, I gave up on trying to access the full version of the web site to attempt it, because it more likely to result in frustration than satisfaction. Both the native browser and Chrome Beta for Android have done a lot to address this. If you have an ICS system and you don't have Chrome Beta installed, you should. If you're like me, you've got favorite web-based apps with native apps that don't include all the features of the web site, and you've learned to just live with (or work around) this. In many cases, ICS has improved the entire web-based experience significantly.

4: Manage your applications more directly

You can now quickly create groups of apps organized by folders simply by long-pressing an app and dragging it directly onto another app you want it grouped with. Once this is done, drag other similar apps into that folder (which appears as a circle with multiple stacked icons on my Transformer) to add them. Open the folder, click on the folder name, and you can rename it to whatever you prefer. Inside the folder, drag an icon to the first position so that it appears as the top icon from the desktop view. You can also long-press to drag an app from a folder back to the desktop. This isn't unique to ICS, but it is very well implemented here. Folders will certainly make your desktop less cluttered and allow you have have more apps on a single screen.

5: View your apps and widgets in a consistent presentation

The last point will require you to change your habits, but maybe not for the better. In the past, to access widgets, wallpaper, folder creation, and shortcuts, you long-pressed on the Android desktop. You still access wallpaper this way on ICS, but widgets are now with your application list. Click on the rectangle of 6 squares in the upper right corner of your display, and you'll go into your app tray.

At the top are two tabs, labeled apps and widgets. You can quickly move from a view of your apps to a view of your widgets by clicking the appropriate label. Conversely, if you flick from left to right through your app tray, after the last screen of apps, the widget tray will appear. I'm still not sure that this new method is an actual improvement. It reminds me of Windows changes that make it difficult to find something that worked just fine in the past.

How has ICS changed the way you use your device? Let us hear your tips in the discussion thread below.

About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

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