I first experienced Android 4.0 on my smartphone, and then a month later on a new tablet. What I found fascinating is that 4.0 operates differently on them. One OS that smoothly takes advantage of two different screen sizes -- 4" vertical and 8" horizontal -- and at different resolutions.
The built-in screen flexibility really made its impression on me when I tested out the Android TV Box. Its primary output is an HDMI connector, which means it is meant for modern tv screens, as well as compatible monitors. In the Display section of its Settings app, I found the ability to change the output resolution, from low VGA (640x480) to full HD (1920x1080) and many steps in between. As I fiddled with changing resolutions, I noticed that the text did not change size, and that all UI elements remained in place on my HD monitor. This is remarkable. Windows decreases the heights of fonts as resolutions increase -- much to the bane of older computer users. (A separate option changes the text size in both.)
Let Apple Spend Its Billions on Lawyers
Android 3.0 was much like the time when Apple transitioned its desktop hardware from using IBM to Intel CPUs, and its OS X handled both CPUs for a while. Three-point-oh was a foothold, a testing stage, in which Google reworked the smartphone-oriented Android OS to work with tablets, whose screens could be of any size and aspect ratio.
The crucial aspect to Android 4 is two-fold:
- Hardware independence
- Very different from iOS
Hardware Independence. The early Android phones sported three or four buttons; Android 4 eliminates them through a software control bar that appears at the bottom of the screen, as needed. This leaves iOS devices still dependent on their physical Home button. Apple had removed as much "extra" hardware as possible to maximize profits, but now Google has gone a step further than Apple, while retaining the benefit of the consistently-located back, home, task switch, and menu soft buttons.
Secondly, Android 4.0 makes user interface elements, screen resolution, size, and aspect ratio irrelevant, as I described earlier. Apple's iOS lacks this independence, forcing on its third-party developers the extra cost of developing separate versions of their software that work well on small iPhone screens and well on large iPad screens.
Android and iOS were developed at roughly the same time, yet Apple's hardline on fixed-size hardware meant Steve Jobs left the problem of device independence to Tim Cook to solve. Reminds me of PalmOS, which was was the most fabulous PIM solution ever ...until its failure to scale killed it. Even at v5, iOS fails to scale.
Very Different from iOS. Sure, screen independence is handy for third-party developers but merely a convenience for users. What makes Android 4.0 really important is how different its UX [user experience] is from iOS. (I'm someone who owns two iTouches and an iPad, all of them up to date with the latest version of iOS -- in addition to five Android devices.) The iPhone/iPad user is going to be lost the first time he tries an Android 4 phone/tablet. There is no more copying going on; Apple lost its thermonuclear option, and the courts agree.
From copying, Google has switched to innovating (a.k.a. leap frogging) with 4.0. Initial frontrunner Apple slipped to second place, and so is left scrambling to catch up, like copying Android's notification bar. (No matter; Google again leapt ahead with notification cards in Android 4.1.) Will Apple next copy Android's interactive widgets? (Microsoft did.) Will Google sue Apple, saying 'we want Apple to figure out its own technology'?