As expected, Google launched the latest iteration of the Android OS, Ice Cream Sandwich, alongside the Samsung announcement of the Galaxy Nexus. While Samsung certainly wowed the audience with a truly impressive phone, the real star of the show was Android 4.0.Andy Rubin, Matias Duarte, Hugo Barra, and many more iconic Googlers took to the stage to show off the many facets of the new Android OS. At the end of their presentation, they announced that the Android SDK was already online for developers and users to get a deeper look into the new features offered by this upcoming version of Android.While Google offered a terrific demonstration of many of the impressive features in Ice Cream Sandwich, I am somewhat concerned about the overall ability to deliver the Ice Cream Sandwich experience, and whether or not manufacturers will be willing to follow in Google’s vision for the future. We’ll tackle that in a separate post, for now, lets focus on the core features of the OS.Total UI OverhaulPlain and simple, if you have never used a Honeycomb tablet, Android 4 will be something of a jarring experience for you. In order to become comfortable with this brave new world, there’s a few things you should know.– The tiles move: Instead of removing all of your Notifications all at once with a clear button, you will have the option to remove individual notifications by simply brushing them off of your notification bar with the swipe of a finger. Additionally, when looking at your previously opened applications you will have the option to sweep individual applications away as well.– Your Notification bar has superpowers: Now called the Action Bar, your top drawer pull down sports a whole new list of features now. First of all, it’s available to you from the lockscreen so you don’t even have to unlock the phone to check incoming email, SMS, etc. Additionally, your Music controls are available from inside the Action bar, meaning not only is your music available to you on the lockscreen, but the developers of your favorite apps will be able to put goodies up there as well.– Your Launcher is customizeable: As a Google Voice user, I have zero need for the stock SMS app for Android, and yet so many phones force it to the dock assuming you want it there. Now, you can pick and choose what you want to go on your launcher dock. When you open the app drawer, you will have access not only to your apps, but also your widgets on a separate tab for quick and easy placement on your homescreen. Oh, and those widgets? All of the Google ones are resizeable, and the API’s are there for developers to be able to do the same to their widgets.Control your phoneWith Android 4.0, you have a lot more say in how your phone behaves, and how it performs. Instead of using your phone and seeing the results when you are finished, you have real-time access to many parts of your phone for better control.– Real time voice input: Instead of speaking a sentence and seeing how right/wrong Google got it, the results show up as you speak them. Additionally, you can double tap any word Google gets wrong and push the change back to Google in the hopes that they wont get it wrong next time.– Choose your own spell check: Maybe English isn’t your language of choice, or maybe you have been on the internet too long and you’d prefer Urban Dictionary to Mirriam-Webster. Google allows you to use any third party dictionary and language kit, and plug it right into their input and spell check system.– Network Data Control: In this day of limits, caps, and insane overage charges, Google has provided users with the tools necessary to control the data that passes over a mobile network. You can shut down mobile data on your phone when you reach a limit that you have set on yourself, or set a warning for when you have consumed a specific amount of mobile data. You can look at a detailed breakdown of which apps are using the most data and when, and you can even stop apps from using data in the background if you don’t want them to.Social ContactsYour contact manager has gotten a pretty serious visual update as well, but believe it or not that’s actually not the significant thing here. Google has seen fit to make your contact manager social in certain ways, in an attempt to unify your phone based communications with your social communications.– The “Me” profile: at the top of your contact manager now is the most important person in your phone, you! Not dissimilar from what you see now on any of Google’s desktop services (the black bar in Gmail, docs, etc) is the “Me” profile. Everything about you is in your Me profile. This includes contact information, social networks, birthday, anything Google has stored on or about you from other services is available to you here.– Unified contacts: Google doesn’t just read up on you, no sir. If your contacts have a Google+ profile, or if you two use the same app with data available to share (Latitude, for example) that information can be made available to you. Want to circle your new Boss on G+ now that your contact manager shows you he’s got one? You can circle him (or uncircle him) right from the contact screen.– Unified calendar: not only are all of your separate calendars glued together and color coded in a nice easy to use way, but apps that you have given permission to play will be able to stick things in your calendar as well.Huge New ThingsWhen iOS 5 came out, the Android fans shouted “Theif!” across the internet. Many of the Android UI changes were likely “inspired” by WebOS and Windows Phone, and to be honest, I hope Google bought licencing from Disney for all the Tron that’s baked into Android 4.0. But Google did see fit to add some really cool tricks that are new to the mobile experience.– Face Unlock: Still struggling to figure out what you are ever going to use that Front Facing Camera for? How about using it to unlock your phone? Unless you have an evil twin, what seems to be the most secure way to lock your phone ever is the ability to lock it to your big smiling mug. The demo for this at the Samsung event didn’t go so well, and I kind of doubt Matias Duarte’s crack about how much makeup he had on affecting the software, but the possibility of using this if it works seems really cool.– All new toys for NFC, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi: Google pulled out the stops on their support of third party toys and apps on Android phones, specifically how they interact with any of the three wireless technologies. Two Android phones with NFC chips inside can share links, photos, videos, whatever, just by setting the devices next to each other, kind of like Bump but way more stable. Support for the Bluetooth Health Device Profile or HDP enabled devices has been enabled, allowing third party medical or fitness devices to interact with your phone. WiFi Direct support was also added to Android 4, supporting peer to peer networks and third party apps that would use those networks for faster transmission of things like movies and music.– Support for Stylus input: in a push to support more education focused devices, Android 4.0 supports controls to distinguish between a finger, stylus, and eraser events. Taking notes in class, drawing on a digital canvas, or maybe just using your device behind thick gloves will be much better supported natively.DevelopersAll of this talk about new features is a ton of fun, but for developers the real shiny new toys are the tools provided to allow them to add the shiny new features to their apps. As expected, Google has delivered API’s for all of the goodies they announced, as well as quite a few other goodies.– All one framework: Tablets, phones, TV’s, and whatever else you can shoehorn Android onto now all function on the same framework. Complete with documentation to prepare your app to support Fragments, the new Action Bar, resizeable widgets, and a much smoother and more stable emulator to test your app on before pushing it to the Android Market.– Further Business support: on an Enterprise level, you can now completely encrypt an Android 4.0 device, offer VPN solutions through the phone, and offer management policies for the cameras on phones that are in secure areas. Managed devices can control both the VPN setting and the Camera policy remotely.Final ThoughtsAndroid 4.0 brings a lot of potential to the Android platform. At Google I/O, we were given to understand that Ice Cream Sandwich would mark the slowing of the release cycles for Google to two per year. If Google sticks with this, there’s a strong chance we will be greeted in the New Year with an impressive onslaught of new tablets, phones, and GoogleTV supported devices ready to take advantage of all this new software.As with all versions of Android, the critical component will be adoption. If OEM’s push ICS to their users in a timely manner, and if there are no huge problems come release time, Ice Cream Sandwich could be the sweetest version yet.