In Hong Kong today, Google and Samsung introduced a new smart phone and operating system that could represent a potential rival for Apple's new iPhone 4S.
Samsung's Galaxy Nexus, which will go on sale next month, will be the most advanced smart phone from the Korean giant. It will also be the first phone to run Google's latest operating system, Android 4.0, also known as "Ice Cream Sandwich," following alphabetically from the earlier Gingerbread and Honeycomb.
Face time: Android 4.0 lets users unlock a phone through facial recognition.
The hardware includes a 1.2 gigahertz dual-core processor, a 4.65-inch HD Super AMOLED display at 1280 by 720 resolution, a five-megapixel camera, HD 1080-pixel video, with one gigabyte of RAM and 16 gigabytes or 32 gigabytes internal memory. Depending on the region, it will support LTE or HSPA+, two 4G mobile communications standards. It has Bluetooth 3.0, USB 2.0, Wi-Fi, as well as near field communication for payments and data sharing.
As for Android 4.0, rather a lot has been done to enhance the operating system. Google's Android director of user experience, Matias Duarte, showed off some of the new features. He began with the design of the new typeface, called Roboto. This is a sans-serif font that was specifically designed for small screens to make it easier for the user to read.
One of the most talked about features of Apple's iPhone 4S is the voice-operated personal assistant, Siri. At the Hong Kong event, Duarte demonstrated text-to-type by talking into the Galaxy Nexus to send a text message: "Hey, man. I'd love to talk right now, but I'm a little bit busy. I'll catch up with you later period, smiley-face," with which the sentence ended with just that: a period and then a smiley face. The crowd of journalists gave him an ovation for that.
His attempt to show that Face Unlock, which is supposed to unlock the phone when it recognizes the user's face, did not fare quite so well. His partner tried to unlock the phone but failed, which is what was expected. When Duarte then put his face up to the camera, it still did not recognize him. He put that down to the "bright makeup" he needed for the event.
He was quite successful with Android Beam—another crowd-pleaser. By putting two Android phones back-to-back, a user could tap on the screen of one to send content to the other phone. He did this with a Web page as well as a Google Map and a photo.
Lan Lau, the director of Zip2Zap Communications, a Hong Kong-based company that develops mobile applications and works with both Android and Apple's IOS, said she was keen to use the new Android OS as well as the new phone from Samsung. "The screen real estate is better for building more complex applications, and we are very much looking forward to building new applications that take advantage of the new big screen."
In defining what Android is about, Andy Rubin, Google's senior vice president of mobile, said: "We want to do better than what people are referring to as smart phones today. So we take all the innovation that's available at Google—everything we offer in cloud services—and make it available on your cell phone 24 hours a day."
Analyst firm Gartner recently said that Android was number one in the second quarter of 2011, with 46,775,900 units sold (43.6 percent of the market). Symbian was second with 23,853,200 units sold (22.1 percent) and IOS was third with 19,628,800 units sold (18.2 percent).
By Danyll Wills, Hong Kong
From Technology Review