My problems with ICS

Ice Cream Sandwich may or may not be here, but it is time to start saying goodbye to the old Android paradigms.

My first experience using an Android phone was when I bought the HTC Incredible from Verizon, mainly due to a Mr. Topolsky's review at Engadget. I had followed the Android phenomenon before that on Engadget; words like "promising" and "great Gmail integration" were thrown around, but the constant addendum was that it was slightly unfinished. Something was missing from Android that you could find in other platforms (iOS and WebOS at the time).

But I loved the Incredible. It launched with Sense 1.0, the best version of Sense I have used. It was simple. HTC built in some great integration with Facebook into contacts, the Dialer was amazing, the keyboard was the best one on the market (in my opinion). It had a 3.7 inch profile (so it wasn't too big). It had an optical trackpad! And It launched on Eclair, good old Android 2.1.

Previous to the Incredible, I had been a hardcore iOS user. But the Incredible was so tempting in its design and UI, that I jumped on the Android ship, and I was forced to learn two things about Android:

1. The Menu button is your best friend

For the uninitiated, in my mind the Menu button is essentially Android's equivalent of a right-click. In any app, it brings up the contextual menu, and in the bottom right hand corner of that menu is the settings. Always. You're on the launcher? hit menu to reach settings. Gmail? Ditto.

2. The Search button is the best feature of Android

From the home screen, tap the search button and you're in a Google search. Best Shortcut Ever. When I wasn't reading Gmail, or texting, or talking on the phone, I was searching on Google. It made it so simple: hit a button, type your query, and you're set.

These were my two go-to features of Android that I understood as core to the experience. Ice cream Sandwich changed that. And, in my opinion not for the best.

Ice Cream Sandwich Cometh

As an avid fan of Android, of course I was excited when ICS was finally unveiled. New, sleeker, faster Android? for phones? Yes please! I grabbed a Galaxy Nexus as fast as I could, and was greeted by a whole new interface that the blogosphere had, quite adamantly, called the best version of Android yet. There was fierce discussion about whether the iPhone 4S or the Galaxy Nexus were the phone of the year, MG Siegler and J. Topolsky had a wonderful fight on Twitter, Android fanboys rejoiced the world round because they were the new hotness again.

But, in my mind, I was conflicted. The Galaxy Nexus brought a new UI to my OS, but was it better? A few weeks into using the device, I can say, quite assuredly, no.

Problem 1: the death of the menu button:

Menu Icon  - Ice Cream Sandwich Android 4.0

ure, it was kinda clunky in some apps. iOS doesn't need a menu button, why should Android? Well, the problem is that ICS apps still have the contextual menu of the older Android versions, it just moved. Now it can be in the upper right, or in two different positions in the lower right. Looking for settings? Simple: hit the menu button. Now: hunt for the menu button, god knows where the developer put it. Why get rid of a button that did the job of three different UI positions? To make room for Problem 2.

Problem 2: The multitasking button

The multitasking button rivals that facebook button on the HTC Chacha for must useless button ever placed on an android phone. Sure it looks cool and brings back the Cards idea so loved by the WebOS crowd. But functionality.

Multitasking on Android 2.X was:

1) Hold down the Home button

2) Choose what you want of your 6 most recent apps

Multitasking on Android 3.X and above is:

1) Press new multitasking button

2) Choose what you want from a scrolling list (only 4 fit per screen) of every app.

OR (either version):

Open the app drawer and choose your app from an alphabetical assortment of your apps.

The Multitasking button is superfluous. It adds a visual "flair" to multitasking that is not necessary on a phone. Why do I need to see a preview of my facebook app? just open it already and let me actually read facebook! A simpler multitasking interface like iOS' quicklaunch was all that was necessary. Instead of limiting to the 6 most recent apps, make that list scrollable. And DONE: we solved the multitasking problem. Instead we have a button that is used far less than the menu key that takes up 1/3 of the soft-key row of our phones.

Problem 3: Removal of the search key

Why do I need a search field (that you can't type into) at the top of every home screen in ICS? Rhetorical question; you don't. What you need is a search button that did the very same thing in the bottom right of capacitive button row. Also, when you're in an app, you just tap it and search! A truly magical idea. Instead, we are again delegated to hunting down the search bar, which due to the nature of Android apps, could be just about anywhere. In a separate tab, on a different window... talk about a pain.

image

Once again, we turn to the rooting community to fix our gripes. Nova Launcher gets rid of the search bar on the home screens, and MoDaCo and AOKP bring back the Search key. Definitely the greatest part of Android: it has the best development community. See you guys on XDA.