Google’s latest iteration of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich or Android 4.0 is a major overhaul from Gingerbread, but sadly, most of us will never get to experience it in its true form. We saw some new features and speed improvements going from Froyo to Gingerbread but on the face of it, it didn’t offer much of a visual difference. ICS on the other hand just feels fresh and different and is something that has to be experienced. Unfortunately, unless you own a Nexus S, Galaxy Nexus or use a custom ROM, you’ll never get close to it due to handset manufacturers' obsession with adding their own spin to it.
Stock Gingerbread and Froyo were extremely bland and lacked finesse and visual appeal, which is why manufacturers turned to custom skins to make the phone more “user friendly”. Out of them, HTC and Sony had the best implementation with Sense and Timescape UI and people would flock towards these phones, purely for the skin, which made sense. Google didn’t pay much attention to the aesthetics of the UI as they had bigger problems to worry about, like the fragmentation issue. With ICS, Google has addressed most of the concerns in Gingerbread and Honeycomb and have come up with a truly worthy successor. Stock ICS is excellent just the way it is. It doesn’t need any skin or enhancement to make it better as they’ve incorporated most of the extra features found in skins like ‘Folders’, directly into the OS itself. However, Tier 1 manufacturers continue to use their custom skins over ICS and more often than not, end up ruining the experience. From their point of view, I guess, the reason would be to not alienate existing users of their products. For instance, a long time, non tech-savvy user of the HTC Wildfire looking to upgrade to a One V would be a bit hesitant if he/she was presented with totally different look. What I’d like to see is an option that allows you, the user, to choose if you want Sense/ Touchwiz/Timescape or the stock launcher. An even better solution would be the ability to switch between launchers at any time, just like we do with other third party launchers. Why should I have to resort to custom ROMs when all they have to do is give me a choice? Having said that, I would welcome some tweaks from the manufacturers end like Samsung’s Video player as it kicks butt compared to any other player on the Play Store. So, I’m not saying do not tweak or add features to ICS. I'm saying only add or change what’s really necessary and leave everything else alone. Not only would this be quicker to implement but it would be lighter on resources as well and presumably, would result in quicker update roll-outs.
ICS in all it's beauty
As a little real world example of what I’m talking about, I would like to bring the HTC One X in the picture. So, I’ve been using this phone for a week now and I’m really relishing the speed and the awesome burst mode in the camera, which comes in super handy for some great Instagram shots. My primary phone is a Galaxy S, running Slim ICS ROM and after just a week away from it, I miss it already. My major gripe with the One X is the keyboard, which makes it a nightmare for chatting or typing a message. There’s this microscopic lag while typing and at times it refuses to register your input. The stock keyboard on ICS is so much better and has one of the best word predictions and auto correct implementations, which put it close, if not equal to iOS. Also, the placement of the ‘Backspace’ and ‘Enter’ keys are too close which causes you to hit 'Send' instead of 'Delete'. Now, if HTC had only given the option to use the stock keyboard as well, I’d be a happy camper.
While it’s great to see manufacturers taking the extra effort to offer a better and unique Android experience, I feel they need not get carried away any more as Android has now evolved to a level where it can stand on its own two feet without the need of training wheels. The sooner manufacturers realize this, the better. I’m fine with custom icons, extra audio and video codec support, colour schemes, etc. but just don’t go overboard and complicate things. Just keep it simple.