Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich officially pictured and detailed

Google has announced its latest version of the Android operating system at the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus in Hong Kong on Wednesday morning.

"Ice Cream Sandwich brings an entirely new look and feel to Android. It has a redesigned user interface with improved multi-tasking, notifications, Wi-Fi hotspot, NFC support and a full web browsing experience," explained Google, hoping people will fall in love with the new OS.

System bar

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus features software navigation buttons, a first for Android smartphones, instead of dedicated hardware buttons.

Those virtual buttons in the System Bar allows users navigate instantly to Back, Home, and Recent Apps.

The System Bar and virtual buttons are present across all apps, but can be dimmed by applications for full-screen viewing. Users can access each application's contextual options in the Action Bar, displayed at the top (and sometimes also at the bottom) of the screen.

Homescreen, Favourites tray, and widgets

Like previous versions of Android the focus will be on the homescreen and widgets that are scrollable and stackable.

Borrowing from Honeycombs interface you create a series of re-sizeable widgets and the ability to see what apps or windows you’ve been working on. Like WebOS you are able to flick apps off the page to close them. 

From the All Apps launcher, users can now simply drag an app to get information about it or immediately uninstall it, or disable a pre-installed app.

On smaller-screen devices, the home screen now includes a customizable favourites tray visible from all home screens. Users can drag apps, shortcuts, folders, and other priority items in or out of the favourites tray for instant access from any home screen.

The lock screen, home screen, phone app, and everything in between has been rethought and redesigned to make Android simple, beautiful, and useful.

Folders also get a reworking and now work in a similar way to folder creation in iOS on the iPad or iPhone.

Screenshots

Also new is a screengrab option - again, already present in iOS since the beginning - and one of the most requested features.

Multitasking

Google says it has been made even easier and more visual on Android 4.0. The Recent Apps button lets users jump instantly from one task to another using the list in the System Bar. The list pops up to show thumbnail images of apps used recently - tapping a thumbnail switches to the app. Users can close the app by swiping it to the side just like in webOS, funny considering the man that introduced that feature worked on webOS before joining Google.

Lock screen

The lock screens now let users do more without unlocking. From the slide lock screen, users can jump directly to the camera for a picture or pull down the notifications window to check for messages. When listening to music, users can even manage music tracks and see album art.

Face Unlock

Users will also be able to unlock their phone using a new system called Face Unlock. All users will have to do is look at their smartphone and through the wonder of  facial recognition the phone unlocks; however, rather embarrassingly, during a live demo by Google at the launch the new feature proved not to work. 

Quick responses for incoming calls

When an incoming call arrives, users can now quickly respond by text message, without needing to pick up the call or unlock the device. On the incoming call screen, users slide a control to see a list of text responses and then tap to send and end the call. Users can add their own responses and manage the list from the Settings app.

Swipe to dismiss notifications, tasks, and browser tabs

Android 4.0 makes managing notifications, recent apps, and browser tabs even easier. Users can now dismiss individual notifications, apps from the Recent Apps list, and browser tabs with a simple swipe of a finger.

Improved text input and spell-checking

Google says it has updated and improved the keyboard for Ice Cream Sandwich. Error correction and word suggestion are improved through a new set of default dictionaries and more accurate heuristics for handling cases such as double-typed characters, skipped letters, and omitted spaces. Word suggestion is also improved and the suggestion strip is simplified to show only three words at a time.

To fix misspelled words more easily, Android 4.0 adds a spell-checker that locates and underlines errors and suggests replacement words like in Windows Phone 7. With one tap, users can choose from multiple spelling suggestions, delete a word, or add it to the dictionary.

Users can even tap to see replacement suggestions for words that are spelled correctly. For specialized features or additional languages, users can now download and install third-party dictionaries, spell-checkers, and other text services.

Android Browser

The Android browser will continue to sync your web pages, allow you to have up to 16 tabs open at the same time, as well as, opt to save the page for reading offline or in a desktop view rather than mobile (set as default).

Gmail

Gmail gets a number of features, but the most handy is the ability to now search for emails offline. As standard, Google says you'll be able to look back 30 days although that time frame is adjustable.

Camera and photo editing tools

On the camera front the camera will now work zero lag, and when it comes to editing your images the OS now comes with a number of filters you can apply before saving your image as a separate image, thereby protecting the original photo. Users will be able to search photos via location, people, and other options. 

Like Windows Phone 7 Android Ice Cream Sandwich users will also get a new panorama mode. Google+ users will be able to turn on instant syncing to the Cloud. 

Redesigned Gallery app

The Gallery app now makes it easier to manage, show, and share photos and videos. For managing collections, designed album layout shows many more albums and offers larger thumbnails. There are many ways to sort albums, including by time, location, people, and tags. 

Video

On the video side of things, users will be able to take snapshots while videoing, as well record 1080p footage. Users will be able to zoom while recording and capture time lapse video. 

People app

Ice Cream Sandwich also features a new People app, which lets you browse friends, family, and coworkers, see their photos in high-resolution, and check their latest status updates from Google and other social networks.

Android Beam

Using NFC technology, Android Beam allows you to quickly share web pages, apps, and YouTube videos with your friends by simply tapping your phones together.

Wi-Fi Direct

Ice Cream Sandwich now supports Wi-Fi Direct letting users connect directly to nearby peer devices over Wi-Fi. No internet connection or tethering is needed. Through third-party apps, users can connect to compatible devices to take advantage of new features such as instant sharing of files, photos, or other media; streaming video or audio from another device; or connecting to compatible printers or other devices.

Managing apps

Users will also be able to see and manage their data usage with controls to get alerts or cutting of data connectivity when it reaches a certain level as well as disable background tasks for apps individually.

In the Settings app, colourful charts show the total data usage on each network type (mobile or Wi-Fi), as well as amount of data used by each running application. Based on their data plans, users can optionally set warning levels or hard limits on data usage or disable mobile data altogether. Users can also manage the background data used by individual applications as needed.

You can even use fun effects while shooting video or video chatting with Google Talk.

It also features a number of Google Mobile services, including: Android Market, Gmail, Google Maps 5.0 with 3D maps and turn-by-turn navigation, Google Earth, Movie Studio, YouTube, syncing with Google Calendar, and a redesigned Google app.

The announcement