What's wrong with ICS and the Galaxy Nexus
First off; I love Android. I think that Ice Cream Sandwich has led to a greater harmonisation of the Android operating system and adds a bit of polish to something functional. Google's apps are starting to feel like they belong together, rather than giving a sense that they're being produced by different teams who have little contact.
However, I'm no fanboy. I don't buy a product and deny that it has flaws just because a certain company produced it *ahem *. So here it is; one humble man's opinion on what's wrong with Ice cream Sandwich.
1. Blue theme.... really? There's a reason that designers avoid blue-on-black. It offers poor contrast, and looks cheap; much like the Geocities sites of the 90s. The blue taskbar and app icons used in ICS just don't go with... well... anything. It's all well and good being able to customise your home screen, but when anything except a blue background clashes it's all a little redundant.
2. The stock icons themselves are disgusting. We all knew this from the leaked screenshots, which forums were praying were fake. Mostly, they just don't look like they belong to the same set. There's no consistency. Half are blue, half are not. Some are three dimensional, and some are traditional, flat icons. Some are different sizes. They just don't work. They look cheap, childish and don't match the 'magazine' style of the UI overhaul. It's like someone realised at the last minute that they'd forgotten to redesign icons, so just did a Google Image search and used the first of each that they found.
3. Google Plus pages won't open in the Android Browser. This one is just plain embarrassing. Google's flagship device can't view Google's new hub outside of the restrictive app? The browser just panics and shuts down with no option to report it. Did no-one test this?
4. Google Talk isn't in the sharing options. That's right, click on the share icon within an app and it'll show you every way of sharing except Google Talk. Following the above, it seems like Google is boycotting their own services.
5. Speech to text for UK language setting is insane. After a few words, it seemingly switches to using your contacts directory as a dictionary, rather than real words. You end up with a full sentence made entirely of surnames and forenames. I cannot believe that no-one tested this.
6. Removing the search key doesn't just remove the ability to search from some apps; it means that you can no longer assign functions to long press, or use voice command from any app. You have to return to the home screen each time. This is a huge step backwards.
7. Similarly, this has led to a non-removable search box on the home screen. Not only does it take up space, but the white icon doesn't work on a light background. The customisability of Android has just been taken down another notch. Sure, you can use a 3rd party launcher, but with no search button, you need the box there for searches.
8. A minor point, but Android can't seem to decide if going for a futuristic hologram look, or the Windows Phone 7 style magazine layout. It's like Mathias Duarte turned up, and they said “Make our OS beautiful... but it still has to look like ugly old Honeycomb (TRON)." All in, it just feels a bit cheap and confused.
9. The soft keys which Google has opted for in ICS are not well positioned. The home key is far too close to the space bar, which is infuriating when typing.
10. The action bar is horrific to use. It means that the menu and search keys jump around the screen. So you're in the Facebook app and want to see the menu. Where is it? Well it's not where it used to be and there's no action bar. Oh wait, three dots have appeared in the soft-key bar. Ugly and inconsistent, but OK.
Switch to messaging. Where the heck is it? Ah it's in the top right now! The little scamp.
Now you're in Gmail. Where is the menace? I know you're here somewhere... Ah, there! In the action bar in the bottom right. Android Market: back up top! There is just no consistency and it makes everything feel disjointed and unpredictable.
The action bar essentially negates the large screen on the Galaxy Nexus. The row of soft keys, plus the action bar actually leads to a lower proportion of screen space for the app than on previous versions of Android.
11. Cut, Copy & Paste: What the hell were they thinking?! This doesn't just jump around based on app, but depending on which page of an app you're in. And even then, the buttons are different every time.
Take Gmail for example. Copying text from the body of an email: a menu appears in place of the action bar at the bottom. However, in the 'compose' screen this menu appears at the top, but with different icons. Another 'paste' button (but not using the paste icon) also appears above the selected text, but no cut or copy buttons. If you try and make a selection from a link, a long press summons a pop-up dialogue where paste is an option. That is four ways of pasting, just within the Gmail app.
Not to mention, that they've opted for icons with no words. Unless you're accustomed to using old Windows machines, this may as well be code. It's like it's intentionally trying to confuse you.
12. Relationships with app vendors must be non-existent. If I was releasing an update to a platform which relies upon people being able to install apps, I'd make sure that the most common apps work on the new platform before release. This could involve providing phones and assistance to the big names. As it stands, neither Facebook nor Whatsapp (two of the top 5 most downloaded apps) work. Both of these are communications related. I feel cut off from the world. I'm sure this could have been sorted before release. Swype is another big name that doesn't support the screen resolution.
Google launched the Galaxy Nexus weeks ago. Facebook was initially unusable due to the absence of a menu button. The app was updated today to a version akin to the iPhone. However, the drag-to- refresh animations don't work as they should, and the damn thing will alert you of 'new messages' every 30 minutes if you have any unread, regardless of whether or not they are new. Atop this, Facebook will still not sync with official Google devices as Facebook does not properly use Google's contact API. Rather than being stubborn, Google should be helping Facebook, or seconding engineers, as they know full well that the majority of their users will require his service.
I appreciate that a lot of this is out of Google's hands, but this is just a warning to early-adopters – be prepared to lose the services you use most.
13. The browser is still useless with forms. Try entering text in a field. It'll type past the edge of your viewport and you can't scroll to the cursor. The viewport should follow the cursor. You can't zoom in and out because you can't get 'hold' of the web page due to the full-screen text entry field.
14. Horizontal lines everywhere. Did I mention that text fields are now horizontal lines? Text boxes are indistinguishable from divides and text doesn't sit on the lines so you never know where one ends and the other starts.
As I said, all in, it is an improvement. However, there is a heck of a lot of room for improvement. There is still a feeling that things aren't really designed, or connected; just a bit haphazard. I'm just hoping Cyanogen pulls something wonderful. For the standard consumer, the experience aspect is still playing catchup with Windows Phone and iOS.