Matias Duarte on the philosophy of Android, and an in-depth look at Ice Cream Sandwich | This is my next…

In the flurry of Android hardware, specs and version numbers, it’s important to step back and look at the bigger picture. Just what is the bigger plan for Android 4.0 (ICS) and where does it fit in? Read the insightful interview with Android UX Head Matias Duarte.

Some interesting things I’ve noted:

* In the shift from hardware buttons (the variation between manufacturers has been one of the biggest points of contention since the beginning of Android) to on-screen buttons, the shift is to just three: HOME, BACK and TASKS (much like Honeycomb). Of course, what this means is a contextual MENU button, or far more likely – a gradual but solid push towards all applications having on-screen function buttons (instead of a pop-up menu). This is one of the main sticking points with new adopters of Android – that many, often important, tasks are hidden until you hit MENU. The task switcher button is also more natural than holding the home button (or double tapping).

* That Google is focusing heavily on the entire experience and cohesion of the OS, paying attention to the finer details, rather than rapid release + feature race. It’s definitely not something which Android devices are known for, but I believe it will pay dividends in the long-term. It’s well timed, hardware-wise the devices these days are barely differentiable and are all very usable (compared to the night and day differences of the 1st and 2nd Gen Android devices).

* Users will be able to remove bloatware and system apps. Self-explanatory, hurrah. Have useless links and shortcuts from your telco? Just remove them. I wonder how carriers will react.

* The Nexus Prime has an aluminium chassis which adds rigidity and strength. The next step is carbon-fibre.

* A new style guide for developers is being drawn up. The existing one is woeful at best, but with new templates and guidelines to UI conventions, we should see a more consistent and integrated range of applications.

* The Android SDK also mentions emulator support for up to 1280×720 (including the 10″/7″ tablet 1280×800 and 1024×600). There is no mention for resolutions higher than x720, which leads me to believe this WILL be the new standard. Where manufacturers can differentiate will be on screen size, device form factor and other add-ons.

I believe that this is exactly what Android needs, ICS addresses many concerns which people may have jumping onto the platform. Andy Rubin has already emphasised that update cycles are going to be much slower than before (compared to the dizzying pace of the 2.0+ days).

The only question now is, which phones are going to be retro-fitted with ICS? The Nexus S definitely, quite possibly the SGS2 / Galaxy Tabs / Transformers / Xooms. In theory anything which can run 2.3+ should be able to upgrade to ICS, pending manufacturer/carrier support.

Exciting times ahead.

Exclusive: Matias Duarte on the philosophy of Android, and an in-depth look at Ice Cream Sandwich | This is my next…

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