Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich now official, includes revamped design, enhancements galore

Google has taken the stage in Hong Kong to make the next version of Android OS, nicknamed Ice Cream Sandwich, a thing of reality. Better known as Android 4.0, the update offers a massive redesign to the user interface and adds a plethora of new features. Some of the highlights include an NFC-enabled feature called Android Beam, offline search in Gmail, new lock screen features and a fancy unlocking method called "Face Unlock," which uses facial recognition to ensure strangers can't use your phone without permission. Ice Cream Sandwich also includes enhancements in almost every native app within Android itself. The SDK is already available for Android 4.0, and the update itself will make its first public appearance on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, also unveiled tonight. After the break, we'll cover all of the nitty gritty details, along with some excellent screenshots below. So come along, why won't you?

Here's some of the enhancements found in Ice Cream Sandwich:

  • Option to use virtual buttons in the UI, instead of taking up capacitive touch buttons

  • Widgets are in a new tab, listed in a similar list to apps

  • Folders are much easier to create, with a drag-and-drop style similar to iOS

  • A customizable launcher

  • New phone app with visual voicemail functionality that lets you speed up or slow down voicemail messages

  • Pinch-to-zoom functionality in the calendar

  • Gmail has offline search, a two-line preview, and new action bar at the bottom

  • Swipe left or right to switch between Gmail conversations

  • Integrated screenshot capture by holding power and volume down buttons

  • Improved error correction on the keyboard

  • Ability to access apps directly from lock screen (similar to HTC Sense 3.x)

  • Improved copy and paste

  • Better voice integration

  • Face Unlock, a facial recognition service

  • New tabbed web browser, allowing up to 16 tabs

  • Browser now automatically syncs your Chrome bookmarks

  • Modern "Roboto" font

  • Data Usage section in settings lets you set warnings when you reach a certain amount of use and disabling data when you go over your limit

  • Ability to kill off apps that are using data in the background

  • Camera app: zero shutter lag, time lapse settings, zoom while recording

  • Built-in photo editor

  • New gallery layout, organized by location and person

  • Refreshed people app with social network integration, status updates and hi-res images

  • Android Beam, a NFC feature that lets you exchange websites, contact info, directions, YouTube, etc.

  • Don't like some of those preloaded carrier apps? Disable 'em. Android Engineer Dan Morrill mentions that, among other new features, any app can be disabled, and while it will still take up space in ROM, it won't be snatching any of your precious resources or clock cycles again if you don't want it to.