As I watched the Samsung Unpacked announcement, I couldn’t help but gawk at the Galaxy Nexus. It’s a beautiful phone. It’s exactly what we were expecting and hoping to see: a 720p screen at 4.65-inch with a beautifully curved body. But the real star of the show was the software that it was running. Android has undergone much more than a minor facelift in Ice Cream Sandwich, and I’m very excited to get my hands sticky.
The theme of the ad campaign run for the Unpacked event was that some things just go better together. Ostensibly, that means Samsung and Google, and I think that sentiment translates very well to their products. Indeed, as I watched the event I couldn’t help but think about how well the phone and the OS complemented each other. Ice Cream Sandwich seemed to fly on the new hardware, and the utility of such a display was evident even through the portals of the Internet. I think there’s a lesson to be learned from this, something that speaks profoundly to the future of Android hardware.
ICS really looks to be not just a beautiful operating system, but also a very powerful one. Powerful in how it handles tasks and its versatility, but also powerful in the sense that it presents the user with an information-dense environment. That’s what I liked most. Many of the screens were rich with images, text and animated flourishes. So often, the mobile experience is watered down, and in some cases even ruined by the inability to display a variance of content. Contextual cues such as images and formatting are lost, as the inclusion of such elements would clutter most mobile screens. But the impression I got from Ice Cream Sandwich is that Google is diving quite heavily into a space that looks more and more like the desktop, one whose contextual clues fit a much larger experience into the palm of your hand.
Unfortunately, it appears to me that ICS will not be optimized for many previous android devices. It almost seems certain that one would need a high density display and a large screen to really enjoy the full 4.0 experience. Resized and stacked widgets aren’t going to matter much when you can’t read the information that they are displaying. At first, this thought worried me. I had dreamed of ICS as an elixir that could bring new life to a legion of old hardware. But the more I think about the advanced hardware required to fully enjoy Android, the more I’m happy that Google decided to take things in this direction.
Manufacturers are going to realize that in order to build a desirable, top-tier ICS device, they’re going to have to forgo the old WVGA displays and really double down on qHD or the new HD AMOLED displays. The average size of screens are going to increase as well. It may seem reasonable to think that the only thing that really matters is pixel density, but practical use dictates that text must be large enough to be comfortably read. Perhaps most wonderfully of all, bezels are going to have to shrink in order to mitigate the overall size of the phone. The market was already headed in a larger direction, but Ice Cream Sandwich will ensure that those displays are not just big, but packed with pixels. Edge to edge high pixel-density goodness is something that we will all learn to appreciate. It definitely sounds delicious to me.
I last wrote that when software has the ability to transcend hardware, it matters. I still stand by that statement. However, I’d like to propose another:
When software advances hardware, it is a step toward the future.