Google’s next iteration of its mobile operating system has officially been dubbed Android 4.0 and it will be available for the first time on Samsung’s new Galaxy Nexus smartphone.

The two companies lifted the curtain on the OS affectionately known as Ice Cream Sandwich and the Galaxy Nexus smartphone that will be the first to run it in Hong Kong late Tuesday evening (promotional video below). Google said Android 4.0 would be immediately available to developers. Samsung will begin shipping the Galaxy Nexus worldwide in November.

Here’s a breakdown of what’s new with Android 4.0:

A new lockscreen. Ice Cream Sandwich is ditching passwords for facial recognition technology to unlock phones. Unfortunately for Google, this particular feature failed badly during Tuesday’s Hong Kong demo. The new Face Unlock feature did manage to lock out a non-owner of the demo phone, but somewhat comically, it wouldn’t let the legitimate owner in either.

Google has done a couple of other things with its lockscreen and homepage with Android 4.0. You can now swipe a locked phone directly to the camera function and begin taking pictures from your smartphone immediately. Android 4.0 also features some pretty cool screensaver art for the homepage and a new San Serif typeface built just for Ice Cream Sandwich called Roboto.

Speaking of the camera … Just as Apple offers quicker photo snapping on the new iPhone 4S, Google’s upped the ante with Android 4.0 to provide shutterbugs with “insanely fast” multiple shot-taking capabilities. And as rumored, Ice Cream Sandwich has got a slick new photo editor chock-full of “hipster filters,” according to the search giant.
Galaxy Nexus front

Introducing Android Beam. Ice Cream Sandwich leverages near-field communications (NFC) tech to enable you to share contacts, maps, apps, websites, directions, and YouTube videos with other smartphone owners simply by holding two Android 4.0 phones close to each other.

The power of speech. Siri isn’t the only game in town. You’ll be able to speak into the Galaxy Nexus and other Android 4.0 smartphones and type emails, SMS messages, and more with your voice with the text immediately appearing on the screen in front of you.

A keyboard boost. Google says it’s built a more accurate keyboard with Ice Cream Sandwich, while improving error correction and the cut, copy, and paste facility, and adding an in-line spell checker to the OS.

A “total Android makeover.” Google says the look and feel of Android 4.0 was inspired by big, bold magazine design, with layouts that use big pictures that “suck you into the content” rather than blocks of tests and ugly lists. The OS, which is geared towards both smartphones and tablets, eliminates hardware buttons in favor of adaptable software buttons. Some ways that the new-look Android gives users a smoother ride include notifications that add pictures of the people you’re communicating with, more intuitive folder management that allows widgets and folders to be resized easily, and dragged and dropped where needed, and a new homepage icon that accesses recently used apps.

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