The age-old battle between Apple and Google will never end, nor will heated arguments about which or their respective platforms is faster, smoother or all around better. Even face-offs over which has the best browser or app stores constantly flood the Web. Nonetheless, they will continue to update their platforms, making them more current, efficient and user friendly.
The latest update from Google, Ice Cream Sandwich (AKA Android 4.0), released just over one month ago. It brought a major interface overhaul to handsets (minor to tablets) and introduced some fundamental changes in performance, design and concept that should make Android more pleasing for users all around.
To date, though, Android has been known to look a little rough around the edges. It has earned a reputation for looking utterly beta-like and largely like an unfinished product. The Gingerbread update is a perfect example of this. Their "major interface changes" in Gingerbread was a change to some system colors, a slight revamp of the home screen dock and glowing effects instead of rubber banding when you reach the end of a scrollable list or page. In other words, the visual changes between Froyo and Gingerbread, albeit system-wide, were slight and make Android hardly more appealing than before. Thus, partner OEMs continued to theme and customize Android to no end to polish the interface and buff out any burrs (left behind by an engineer) that might nick one of your fingers when swiping between home screens.
Okay, so maybe Gingerbread wasn't that bad. But it was far from pretty and certainly lacked the polish that, say, an unnamed rival platform has had for years.
That was supposed to change with Ice Cream Sandwich. But has it? Not everyone thinks so. Apple connoisseur and Apple-centric columnist at TechCrunch, MG Siegler, doesn't seem to think so. In his article, An iPhone Lover's Take On The Galaxy Nexus, Siegler writes:
Unfortunately, the system still lacks much of the fine polish that iOS users enjoy. The majority of Android users will probably think such criticism is bullshit, but that has always been the case. I imagine it’s probably hard for a Mercedes owner to describe to a Honda owner how attention to detail makes their driving experience better when both machines get them from point A to point B. As a Honda owner myself, I’m not sure I would buy it — I’d have to experience it to understand it, I imagine. And most Android lovers are not going to spend enough time with iOS to fully appreciate the differences.
I respect Siegler's opinion – after all, an eyesore to him my be beautiful to me, and vice versa. And I don't want to get into the ethics of his statement. There's a lot to be said there (Joshua Topolsky of The Verge did a pretty good job). However, as a person that now carries both an iPhone 4S and a Galaxy Nexus, I have to completely disagree.
I don't want to go into a lot of detail as I'm sure a lot of you are digging into Ice Cream Sandwich as you read through this on your shiny, new Galaxy Nexus on Verizon. But in the Ice Cream Sandwich update no part of the Android interface has remained untouched or unimproved in some way or another. Sure, some aspects don't quite make sense or may be out of place, but I've even thought the same thing of iOS (i.e.: Settings app and Notification Center).
Even the resolution and pixels per inch of the display on the Galaxy Nexus taunt the iPhone's Retina display, so hardware limitations are no longer to blame.
I have been digging through 4.0 for nearly a week now and I fail to see how anyone could possibly find the new Android unpolished. I have yet to come across a single aspect of the interface that is even remotely reminiscent of "old Android." Everything from the redesigned folders (which was an obvious sore point in all prior versions), the new app drawer and Roboto typeface (which is a hit or miss with most people) to the new People app and even the insignificant pattern background in the Phone app adds a bit of polish to the system. For once, it feels like the Android team put a lot of attention to detail in literally every aspect of the interface. Even the new App Switcher is fantastic – that's more than can be said of iOS. (See? It's all about preference.)
What it amounts to is whether or not you like minimalistic design of the OS. And chances are, if you don't like the changes you see in Ice Cream Sandwich, you won't like future changes either. Matias Duarte (you know, the guy who played a large part in the original design of webOS, which was undeniably beautiful and simple), Director of Android User Experience, headed the Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich interface change efforts. He swore to a better user interface for Android, and by all means, he delivered. But he has a very unique style; you're either going to love it or hate it.
The point is, Ice Cream Sandwich is polished. Is it as polished as iOS? Absolutely; it's just polished in an entirely different way. It not longer looks or feels like beta software, but a near finished product rather. Some people still aren't going to like it because it's not iOS. Others, like myself, will love it. All the while, those users may love or hate iOS.
What say you, new Galaxy Nexus owners? Does Ice Cream Sandwich make Android as polished as iOS? Or are the two polished in such different ways that it's hard to compare them?