Apple's iOS 5 and the new iPhone 4S got some new competition late Wednesday after Google introduced Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, running on the new Samsung Galaxy Nexus. ICS offers a host of new features, including improved voice commands, an enhanced browser, facial recognition, photo enhancements, and changes to core apps such as Gmail and Calendar. The Galaxy Nexus hardware boasts a 4.65-inch Super AMOLED display with 1280-by-720-pixel resolution, a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, a near-field communication chip, a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera, and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera.
Ice Cream Sandwich on the Galaxy Nexus will launch in November; pricing has not been announced.
Since ICS is now on its way, and Apple's iOS 5 and the iPhone 4S were released recently, prospective smartphone buyers can choose between the new versions of the two leading smartphone brands. And the differences between the two are many: Do you want deep voice-command integration with the iPhone 4S's Siri digital assistant, or will Voice Actions for Android be enough for you? Do you want to take a lot of panoramic shots, or do you prefer a solid camera without too many features?
Before you decide whether to land in the iOS camp or the Android camp in the coming weeks, here's a look at the highlights of the new versions of both operating systems.
Apple and Google have made improvements to their respective camera software, and both operating systems now offer users the ability to access the phone's camera from the lock screen. Apple also added to iOS 5 the ability to use grid lines to line up your shot, as well as pinch-to-zoom.
Google's Ice Cream Sandwich has a new panoramic mode that stitches together multiple snapshots to create a larger scene. ICS's new panoramic mode includes a slider at the bottom of the screen to help you align the series of shots. The panoramic shot above was posted to Google+ by Google employee Matt Cutts. The photo was taken at Yosemite National Park using a Nexus S running ICS.
Once you're done taking photos, both ICS and iOS 5 have baked-in tools to help you improve your pictures, allowing you to crop and rotate, remove red-eye, and auto-enhance. ICS will also let you set levels and add Instagram-style filters.
Google has added some enhancements to Voice Actions for Android in Ice Cream Sandwich, but anyone hoping for an answer to iOS 5's Siri integration will be disappointed. However, ICS voice-command software now has a hands-free feature that lets you activate voice actions just by speaking to your phone, instead of pressing a button.
People purchasing the new iPhone 4S get to take advantage of iOS 5's new Siri personal digital assistant, which lets you carry out a number of tasks using voice commands. Some of the most interesting Siri features include creating calendar appointments, setting alarms and timers, retrieving basic facts and figures from Wolfram Alpha, and adding location-based reminders.
Both voice-command services also let you do things such as play music, search the Web, and dictate notes, SMS, and email messages.
Ice Cream Sandwich has beefed up browser capabilities with new features such as Google Chrome bookmark sync, incognito mode, and the ability to save full Web pages for offline reading. Apple's iOS 5 browser includes tabbed browsing for the iPad (added to Android tablets with Honeycomb), private browsing, Safari Reader, and Reading List, a feature that lets you save Web pages to read later. Unlike ICS, however, Reading List does not allow offline caching. Reading List syncs across all your iCloud-enabled devices, including desktop PCs.
Notifications and Multitasking
Apple borrowed liberally from Android for iOS 5's new notification system. The new iPhone system includes the appearance of incoming notifications at the top of your iOS device's screen, as well as a full-screen notifications center that you can swipe down from the top of the screen.
Ice Cream Sandwich's notifications include a few enhancements, one of which allows users to pull down the notifications window from the lock screen. Google has also added a new feature called the Recent Apps list, which lets you view thumbnail images of all your running apps and jump between them with one tap.
New Apps and Features
Ice Cream Sandwich has a new People app that is reminiscent of Windows Phone 7's people hub. The new Android app includes a larger profile photo for each of your contacts, and integrates their social networking status updates from services such as Google+ and Twitter. ICS also has a new Gmail app that promises faster performance, includes a new preview pane, and lets you search the past 30 days' worth of your email offline. Google has also updated Calendar, Maps, and Music, but the company has yet to fully demonstrate what the new changes are. A new data-usage app shows you how much data you've been using on a graph; you can also see usage forecasts to plan around your bandwidth caps.
ICS also offers a new sharing feature called Android Beam, which lets you share apps, contacts, music, and videos by tapping two phones together. Android Beam works only with devices that carry near-field communication chips. In addition, ICS supports Wi-Fi Direct, a Bluetooth competitor that lets you connect two devices directly using Wi-Fi signals (no Internet connection required).
Apple added to iOS 5 a Reminders app that is location aware (Siri integration for iPhone 4S only). You'll also find Newsstand, for receiving automatic updates from iOS news and magazine apps such as The New York Times, The Daily, and The Economist. Apple's Blackberry Messenger rival, iMessage, lets you send text messages to other iOS 5 devices (including the iPad). iMessage doesn't count against your monthly text messaging allotment from your carrier, but it does use 3G data if you're not on Wi-Fi.
Android users have been able to store items in the cloud for some time, including purchased apps and now music (with Google Music) and photos (via Google+). Apple is playing catch-up in some ways with the addition of iCloud, which includes syncing apps across all your devices, although both services are reaching music and photo storage around the same time. iCloud also syncs your documents for you, and iOS 5 users can now get over-the-air system updates to their iOS devices via Wi-Fi. Android has had over-the-air updates for a while.
Google also added a minor but interesting security feature that lets you unlock your phone with facial recognition. And ignoring phone calls gets easier with a new set of canned responses that lets you text a caller to tell the person why you didn't answer your phone.
So which phone are you going for: the iPhone 4S or the new Galaxy Nexus due out in November?