As those of here in the U.S. slept off Apple’s lower-than-expected earnings, Google and Samsung were busy unveiling the Galaxy Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich in Hong Kong Wednesday morning.
Aside from the top-notch specs found in the Galaxy Nexus, Ice Cream Sandwich, optimized for both smartphones and tablets, appears to be the next major step forward for Google’s mobile platform.
First things first, the Galaxy Nexus, which many had believed would be called the Nexus Prime, is the world’s first smartphone to ship running Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich.
The Galaxy Nexus features a massive 4.65-inch HD Super AMOLED touchscreen with 720p resolution, 1.2 GHz dual core processor, 16 and 32 GB internal storage options, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 GHz/5 GHz), NFC connectivity, 5-megapixel rear-facing camera, 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, support for HSPA+ and LTE (depending on region) and a 1750 mAh battery.
The Galaxy Nexus also features a redesigned camera, which introduces panorama mode, 1080p video capture, zero-shutter lag and effects like silly faces and background replacement.
To be sure, those are first-class specs, but as the launch of Apple’s 4S exemplified, software is the new differentiator, which means Ice Cream Sandwich took center stage in Hong Kong.
Ice Cream Sandwich features a major UI overhaul from the current vanilla Android experience, as well as a number of new features. It introduces innovations such as Face Unlock, which uses facial recognition to unlock a user’s phone. Android Beam allows users to share web pages, apps and YouTube videos with others by simply tapping their phones together.
“Ice Cream Sandwich demonstrates the Android platform’s continued innovation with one release that works on phones and tablets and everything in between,” said Andy Rubin, senior vice president of Mobile for Google, in a statement. “Features like Android Beam and Face Unlock show the innovative work our team is doing, and Galaxy Nexus showcases the power behind Ice Cream Sandwich.”
Google made it clear with yesterday’s release that it is working toward better usability on Android devices. With Ice Cream Sandwich, Google said part of its mission was to “build a mobile OS that works on both phones and tablets, and to make the power of Android enticing and intuitive.”
The company went so far as to create a new font that’s optimized for HD displays and eliminated all hardware buttons in favor of adaptable software buttons. The keyboard has been improved, notifications have been made more interactive and widgets can be resized on the home screen. What this means for companies like HTC, which have deeply integrated UI overlays, like Sense, remains to be seen.
During a talk at All Things Digital’s AsiaD conference in Hong Kong yesterday, Rubin said that he sees the Galaxy Nexus as a reference design for future Ice Cream Sandwich-based Android devices.
When asked who Google’s competitors are, Rubin referenced a number of big name companies. “I guess my competitors would be anybody who is in the platform business. Apple builds an operating system. Microsoft builds an operating system,” Rubin said, according to a live blog of the AsiaD event posted on the All Things Digital blog at The Wall Street Journal.
A lack of tablet-compatible applications and general fragmentation have proved big downfalls for Android slates thus far, as Apple’s iPad continues to control the space. Currently Android tablets run on Android Honeycomb and Android smartphones run on Gingerbread. Rubin said the importance of merging tablet and smartphone platforms under a unified OS is a core part of the Ice Cream Sandwich release.
Rubin said there are more than 6 million Android tablets on the market, not counting other tablets (such as Barnes & Noble’s Nook Color), which he said was good but not enough.
“Six million is pretty healthy, but it is not 30 million,” he said. “Obviously, we need to get there.”
This weekend marks the third birthday of the G1, the first Android phone. Nine releases later, Google reports that it is activating 550,000 Android devices daily. The Galaxy Nexus will be available in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia in November. Here in the United States it will initially be available as a Verizon Wireless exclusive.