Even though the event was delayed, it's still a solid announcement.
In Hong Kong, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Samsung took the wraps off of Android's newest dessert iteration, Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0. Ice Cream Sandwich boasts some pretty nifty new features and also promises to unify smartphones and tablets running Android, since currently the platform is fragmented between tablets running Honeycomb and smartphones running Gingerbread.
The companies have worked together on the new "official" Android phone, the Galaxy Nexus. Instead of taking on the rumored Nexus Prime moniker, it will combine the branding of Samsung's Galaxy and Google's Nexus. It also packs some serious hardware punch that some spec snobs might have been hoping for in Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone 4S, but more on that later.
Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto
Android 4.0 will use a new design philosophy inspired by a new font called Roboto. The overall aesthetic is described as "modern, yet approachable," and its influence is deeply embedded within the interface. It takes some obvious cues from Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) Windows Phone 7 and its typography-based design. Ice Cream Sandwich uses tiles in a simple and clean manner, much like Mr. Softy's Metro style.
New tricks of the trade
Two important features that some were hoping for in the iPhone 4S were 4G LTE and near-field communications (NFC). The Galaxy Nexus comes with 4G LTE as well as HSPA+, depending on region.
NFC technology has been finding its way into an increasing number of phones, to the cheers of NXP Semiconductor (Nasdaq: NXPI) shareholders, and in addition to Google Wallet, the newest feature to use it is called "Android Beam." With it, you can share contacts, links, apps, and more by holding two NFC enabled Android phones together, similar to the Bump iOS app that's been around for a while and Research In Motion's (Nasdaq: RIMM) Tag feature.
Big G has implemented a new way to unlock your phone using facial recognition, which is dubbed the self-explanatory "Face Unlock." The feature's demo didn't go so well, as Android's head of user experience, Matias Duarte, failed to unlock the phone during the keynote.
The OS includes a "powerful new voice input engine" for dictation. It looks pretty uninspiring when compared to Apple's Siri, whose abilities transcend mere recognition and dictation and actually helps you get stuff done. I've been using Siri for less than a week, and I already delegate menial tasks to it, like managing my calendar and folding the laundry. Wait, that last one isn't scheduled until iOS 6.
Get to the hardware
The Samsung-built Galaxy Nexus is the newest flagship Google phone, following the Nexus One made by HTC and the Nexus S also made by Samsung. It's packing a massive 4.65-inch AMOLED curved display, thanks to Universal Display's (Nasdaq: PANL) OLED technology that Samsung uses.
The processor is a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor with 1 GB of RAM. Onboard storage comes in at either 16 GB or 32 GB, but it sports only a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera compared with the iPhone 4S's 8-megapixel shooter. The front-facing camera beats the iPhone 4S with 1.3 megapixels compared to VGA. The device is razor-thin at 8.84 mm thin -- slimmer than the iPhone 4S's 9.3 mm profile.
It comes with standard sensors like an accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, and proximity sensors. For some odd reason it also includes a barometer -- I'm frequently out and about and in dire need to know the current atmospheric pressure.
Cupertino, we have a problem
Initial reports claimed that Samsung went to great efforts to design the Galaxy Nexus specifically to avoid Apple patents. Samsung's mobile president, Shin Jong-kyun, told reporters, "Now we will avoid everything we can and take patents very seriously."
Subsequently, a separate Samsung executive shot down the rumors, saying that patents weren't an issue when Google and Samsung began the product's development many months ago.
I happen to believe the former rather than the latter. Apple has already won sales injunctions against Sammy in Germany and Australia just in time for the holiday season, so the South Korean conglomerate should be trying its best to dodge legal troubles. Patent suits tend to be complicated yet incredibly vague, but hopefully the company's efforts to not copy Apple will be as successful as its efforts to copy Cupertino.
Can I have an Ice Cream Sandwich in my stocking?
While the new software features and solid hardware specifications are respectable, none of it is a game-changer in any meaningful way. There wasn't anything to wow the pants off people this holiday shopping season, although it sure beats RIM's lackluster OS announcement, which incidentally includes adding some Android functionality. Similarly, Apple's hardware announcements weren't jaw-dropping, either.
For the most part, Android 4.0 and iOS 5 are still neck-and-neck in most of the relevant categories. However, iOS still has one important differentiator named Siri. Most consumers probably underestimate it and therefore won't incorporate it into the purchase decision. That being said, the Galaxy Nexus with Ice Cream Sandwich still looks like it's going to be a winner for the holidays.