Smartphones

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...

13 comments
anjali189
anjali189

Great article and really you made some points here but But I just like the Google Music combination very much. :)

garret.hoffman
garret.hoffman

I want it faster, and more stable! I need to get me some Ice cream sandwich goodness!

AudeKhatru
AudeKhatru

Google handled something? News to me. The biggest problem I see with Android is that Google does NOT handle updates. They seem to throw the updates out and wait and hope. I get no sense that Google handles anything.

InfoStack
InfoStack

Sounds great. But when will we get it? Why haven't the OEMs and Google figured out a Layer inbetween them in which to foster cooperation on concerted roll-outs and upgrades and bring pressure to bear on the carriers? Guys, it's an ecosystem! And it's broken!

DKuida
DKuida

The sharing of internet through Bluetooth is much better than the one using WiFi battery wise, therefor great feature

dcolbert
dcolbert

So - I'd say that a major problem here with the 4.x user base is not Google, or Android, or the device manufacturers, but the wireless carriers. I'm involved in a thread on Jason Perlow's (ZDNet writer) Google+ Stream about this very issue. Apple has tremendous latitude on managing their phone upgrade cycles on the various carriers. There is no single dominant Android handset maker with that kind of clout to dictate how the carriers will move forward with updates. And carriers want to sell more phones and extend contracts, not upgrade old phones to extend useful lifespan and allow users to have non-contract service. Beyond that - even Apple faces the fact that some phones just fall off the map as the OS platform evolves - and device owners are *never* happy with that. There is a fine line to be drawn there. Allow an upgrade that cripples a useful phone, and you get upset users complaining that you did it on purpose. Don't allow the upgrade, and you get users complaining that you didn't give them the chance to choose for themselves if it was good enough - that you didn't support older hardware because you wanted to force users to buy newer hardware. What a "can't win" situation for the device manufacturers. Apple once again has more control, and more good-will, than Android in this regard. Apple users are more generally forgiving and more accepting. Android users are critical and more skeptical of motivation. ASUS devices are among the most aggressively upgraded in the industry - because they're WiFi, not 3G, and ASUS pushes their own OTA updates without worrying about wireless carrier roll-out schedules. ASUS serves as an example that if the manufacturer has control of the process it can happen on a regular, timely and appropriate basis. So something else must be the problem on handsets. The most likely culprit is the wireless carriers, in my opinion. In both cases, the point is that ICS is coming - and if you're sticking with Android, you'll have a device with ICS eventually. Once you do, there are things you're dealing with NOW that may have become habit for you. My goal was to give readers a head start in knowing what habits they can unlearn for newer, more productive methods of getting things done. It bothers me that there aren't more ICS enabled devices out there already. It is a great platform. I personally would like to get it on my Droid 4 ASAP... I picked a non-ICS phone for my recent upgrade when I could have gone with a Samsung Nexus - so I'm really in the same boat as everyone else on my every-day device. I get it.

PapaJimbo
PapaJimbo

I'd love for ICS to change my Android experience, but I'm guessing that 4.x is installed in a very small percentage of devices. Between Google, the makers, and the carriers, upgrades fall into the category of general clusterflock.

57thCork
57thCork

I "upgraded" ? my Android phone to Gingerbread to enable Skype to function, however many of my tried and trusted Apps now no longer function correctly. And to add insult to injury I can find no method of rolling my System back to a previous version. My question is this , why break something that works almost perfectly and end up with something pathetic.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Not the first time we've heard this said, either. A lot of voices are calling for Google to take more control over the entire Android platform. I wish I had included some variation of this sentiment in the poll. I'd like to see how many people agree with this sentiment.

Worth2Cents
Worth2Cents

Take the chance, and put on a custom ROM. On my Zoom 3/4G, I was using SD cards long before Motorola offered anything, and now I'm using ICS and loving it.

PapaJimbo
PapaJimbo

but they can't push what they don't have from the manufacturer, right? OTOH, carriers, in my mind, are already in that "special" group that also includes cable providers and oil companies!

bart
bart

I've got a low-end Android phone (Huawei Ideos X5) and it's running an AOSP-rom courtesy of a dedicated developer at XDA-Developers. I wouldn't go back to the Froyo it came with if the payed me for it!

LarsDennert
LarsDennert

The carriers have to add their bloatware and that takes time. What takes even more time is that CDMA (Verizon/Sprint) is not supported in AOSP because the carriers wrote their own drivers and did not make them public. They row their own boat. Add to this, Sense, Touchwiz and Blur and you have quite a log jamb of delay.

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