10 Honeycomb UI features we hope to see in Ice Cream Sandwich for phones

In short order, Googlers will be on stage announcing Ice Cream Sandwich.  The next version of Android, it's been touted as "the one" that will merge the tablet operating system (Honeycomb) with the phone operating system (Gingerbread), as well as bring "incredible" things according to Larry Page.  We figure a lot of these incredible things will be under the hood, and they should be -- Android still needs some work in key areas, but as users, we're excited about one thing -- the new user interface.

Honeycomb does a lot of things right, and we would love to see some of those things kept and ported over to phones.  Everyone has their own list, but we're going to share ours.  Read on past the break!

Ice Cream Sandwich forums | Nexus Prime forums | rumored device forums

A quick refresher is in order for those of us who don't use a Honeycomb tablet everyday.  Have a peek at the video showing off the UI Google gave us back before Honeycomb was released.

Youtube link for mobile viewing

In no particular order (we really want them all) we present you with the 10 things from Honeycomb we hope to see merged on to phones with Ice Cream Sandwich.

1. Fast application uninstalling

Sometimes you install an app you just don't want to keep, or you want to free up some space for something new.  It's not something we do often, but when we have to, it's not the most straightforward process.  Digging through the settings and scrolling through the list is no where as easy or user friendly as how it's handled in Honeycomb, where you just press and hold the application icon,then drag it to the trash can.  Little things like this add up to a great user experience, and we really hope to see it included.

2. Lock screen message or owner information

To me, this seems like a no-brainer.  I rarely take a 10-inch device out with me, so it's not as useful on a tablet as it would be on a phone (hence my goofy message), but on something that you take everywhere and don't ever want to think about losing, it's a great way to let someone who may find your lost Android phone know how to get in contact with it's owner.  A second phone number, email address, or even a physical address will allow honest folks to know where to look when they want to return it to it's frantic user.  Many EMT's are trained to look at the smartphone of an unconscious person, so it's also a great place to put a message for medical concerns as well.

3. Running app previews


Sometimes you find yourself jumping back and forth between running apps, and having a quick way to do it is nice.  Making it more user friendly and providing a small preview of what's running makes it even better.  We're not concerned about the way Android multi-tasks as much as we are the interface -- we don't want cards that run and chew up memory or to halt and background every third party process, we like Android's intelligent method of managing memory by balancing running tasks. 

This one is going to be a bit tricky we fear.  Because of the move away from dedicated physical or capacitive buttons, developers may have to adjust just how their apps are drawn when in full screen mode to allow users to have access to the on-screen buttons.  We've said it before, Android developers are a crafty bunch.  If there are issues, we expect them to be sorted soon enough.

4. Browser quick controls

Even the expected ginormous HD screen on the upcoming Nexus device could benefit from this one.  On a tablet, you have quite a bit more screen real estate for tab bars and address bars in the web browser, but phones are a different story.  The browser quick controls will set your browser window to a full screen mode, and a flick of your thumb brings up a neat circular menu.

Since they are only visible when active, they could be drawn nice and big so their easy to operate.  And when you're done using them, they tuck away neatly off screen so you can pay attention to the content instead of the menus.

5. Native browser sync via your Google account

An integral part of both the Chrome browser and Chrome OS, as well as baked into the stock Honeycomb browser, shared browser data between devices is something we really want to see.  Third parties can do it, and we're pretty sure there's no reason it can't be included (but not enabled by default -- this ain't Facebook).  If the rumors about a full blown Chrome browser coming to Android are true, this one's another no-brainer.

6. Re-sizable and scrollable widgets

Third party launchers can do it.  Manufacturer builds like HTC Sense or MotoBlur can do it.  I'm sure Google can do it on a phone sized screen, too.  We're talking about better designed widgets that are resizable and scrollable.  Widgets are a great way to have information at a glance right on your homescreen(s), and one of the great features of Android.  They get even better when you can flick through them to see more, and can resize them so they fit exactly where you want them.

When your boss is flying all over the planet and has a huge shared calendar (Hi Phil!), and you add it to your own full agenda, nothing is better than a scrollable calendar widget smack dab in the middle of your homescreen.  Nothing.

7. Quick settings and toggles in the status bar

Again, we see it in OEM builds and plenty of custom ROMs, and it works a treat in Honeycomb.  Having access to toggles and settings for things like Wifi, sounds, GPS, or rotation baked right into the status (action?) bar is really handy.  It's one of those things you miss when you no longer have them.  Since the notification pane is scrollable, space isn't an issue, so we really want this one.

A great thing about having Google bake it in to the OS is that you can have toggles for anything there.  Third party apps that give this sort of control are pretty hampered by the OS for some functions, and opening the settings page rather than just quickly toggling a setting can be avoided.  Let's hope Google gets as creative as CyanogenMod in this area.

8.  Quick access to ALL the volume controls

Sometimes we don't want to lower the volume for a good Led Zeppelin song, but we don't want to hear our phone beep eleventy-billion times a minute as messages comes in.   Having a quick way to adjust the volume for all sources of sound comes into play here.  The way this is handled in Honeycomb is beautiful -- tap the volume switch, and you can adjust whatever is making noise in the foreground, or with a quick tap have access to the other sources.  In tandem with a sound quick toggle like the one mentioned above, I could do away with two of my most used third party applications.

9. Device encryption

While not directly part of the UI, the end result is visible, and very important, to the end user that needs it.  It's another one of those things that OEM's seem to have figured out, and the current hackery-type solutions using GPG are clunky and not the easiest thing to accomplish.  For Android phones to really move into the enterprise, this one is a must.

10.  A GPU accelerated UI throughout the OS

Go back and watch that Honeycomb video again.  Now look at your phone.  Now back to the video.  Your phone is now diamonds, and I'm on a horse...wait, that's not right.  A hardware acellerated UI is what we're talking about.  We really want this.  We think we're going to get this.  We can't wait for this.  Ever wonder why your phone can play Need for Speed without a hitch, but can get stuttery zipping through homescreens once you pack them full of widgets?  It's because Need for Speed is taking advantage of the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit).  Most Android phones have one, but the Android UI itself doesn't really use it.  We got teased a tiny bit in Gingerbread, and saw it come to fruition in Honeycomb, now we just need Google to make it spectacular. 

So that's our list.  There's plenty under the hood we want to hear about as well, like an even more optimized Dalvik Machine and other geeky stuff, but we really like the things that are in-your-face a little bit where we can see them.  What about you guys?  Tell us what you would like to see from Honeycomb on your Android phone in the ICS forums and waiting room.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • I didn't realize Honeycomb was GPU accelerated. Homescreen switching is still laggy sometimes on my Gtab 10.1.
  • That's because it's not. I don't know why they put it on here. Google said ICS is going to be the first full GPU accelerated version of Android. Other than that, some aspect of Gingerbread are GPU accelerated like the app drawer and the pull down notification bar.
  • How rich are the GPU APIs? Seems Android's biggest fragmentation is due to graphics incompatibility between different devices. I know Android supports OpenGL but the platform needs something as rich as DirectX, especially for gaming. It sucks that developers have to develop games for each phone/CPU/GPU type. Will ICS address this or is it not as much of an issue as I think it is?
  • You realize that OpenGL predates DirectX by a good while, and most games that HAVE to be cross platform are written using OpenGL since DirectX is Windows only. Not to mention that OpenGL is a pretty standard set of APIs and has been for a while. Most GPUs support OpenGL. Also, iPhone and Android both support OpenGL ES (not sure if they support 2.0, but I'm pretty sure 1.x is supported across a large number of devices). In fact a good number of 3D games that are on the iPhone are playable on multiple Android devices (because of the OpenGL ES standard). The problem comes from not necessarily software compatibility, but rather performance at the hardware level. Lower grade phones have lower grade GPUs, so they just don't perform as well. This is essentially like trying to play Starcraft 2 on your Nvidia graphics card from 10 years ago. Yea, it might play it, but it ain't gonna be fun.
  • It is, but the Honeycomb implementation could definitely use work. Hopefully it will be improved further in ICS.
  • Hell yeah! This will be a HUGE week in Android history!!
  • It's = it is.
    Its = possessive.
    Their = possessive.
    There = over there/location. You guys get paid to write. I'm not going to pock apart your word choice but for heaven's sake, AT LEAST GET THESE RIGHT!! Having said that, thanks for the article. I agree on all fronts, except that I hope they improve on HC's app previews -- that thing is unreliable and buggy.
  • Oh go pock yourself! Or is it pick?? Uh huh....
  • what was the saying? people who live in glass houses shouldn't walk around naked. oh no wait, shouldn't throw stones...yeah that's it....people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones :).
  • I need a good pock up line.
    I am sad and need a pock me up.
    I just bought a new pockup truck.
    I used to get pocked on in school.
    I thought that team got pocked apart yesterday.
    I loved Jack Black in "The Pock of Destiny".
    I wish I could pick a shirt to wear. One of these things is not like the other ...
  • I must applaud you here though, this was funny and creative! I lol'd. (No sarcasm here)
  • Pick not pock. If you're going to pick apart their writing style, AT LEAST SPELL THAT RIGHT! Thank you.
  • You should make sure your grammar is 100% tight before you 'pock' apart someone else's writing. Thank you please.
  • Language Nazis should pock their words better. :-P
  • Pock = FAIL! It always cracks me up when people who act holier than thou & correct grammar have typos or incorrect grammar in their own posts. HAHA!
  • Still waiting for the ninja edit on this post to try and make himself not look like a pocking idiot ... hahahahaha pure awesomeness
  • Damn you, little touch keyboard! I reiterate my first post... they're getting paid for this, I'm not. And thank you, 15 asses who responded to one adjacent letter. I salute you.
  • You should give up on the its/it's distinction. It is going the way of the dodo.
  • I got one starred! Ohs noes. Calling everyone asses was a bit much, my bad.
  • Irony = Complaining about something and then making a similar mistake yourself. You forgot that: "their" should have been "they're" or "they are" in the fourth thing they'd like to see in ICS. Also, it also probably should have been "PGP", not "GPG". At least he got putting a comma before the "or" in a list correct (similar to a comma before "and" in a list)! e.g. "A second phone number, email address, or even a physical address..." in #2 above. But don't YOU forget that you should use a comma BEFORE the word "but". i.e. "... word choice, but..." Hey, I agree, it's important to know how to write correctly, especially when you write for a living. I have enough trouble trying to get my kids to write correctly without having them point to stuff like this and say, "See, THEY make mistakes too!" Of course, the fact that they know those are mistakes is kind of the point. I have literally seen younger employees be belittled (behind their backs) by managers because of a poorly written EMAIL, much less poorly written reports. Anyway, I would imagine many of these guys are writing on their Android devices and the keyboard's "suggestions" may be partly to blame. This was a relatively long article, so I'm not too surprised that there are some grammatical mistakes. However, that is where proofreading comes in. Read and then reread before hitting the "submit" button! ;-) Oh, and using a grammar checker, like that in MS Word, is a good START, but NOT sufficient for a final check. OR they may want to proofread each other's articles before they are submitted because it can be particularly difficult to catch your own mistakes, especially in longer articles. Then again, I would imagine that in just about anyone's writing SOMEONE could find errors... :-D
  • Using Dolphin HD's gestures for browsing is really nice and I feel is a much better approach than covering the screen with browser buttons. I really hope they get the gpu acceleration right. I doubt they will but it would be really nice.
  • And you can have scrollable widgets with launcher pro or adw
  • I have not experienced honeycomb myself but it looks really cool from the looks of it I just hope that Icecream will be just as or more amazing and still be able to be fast
  • The browser quick options are great except for the closing of multiple tabs. In the case of HC you have to open each tab up individually and then close them, or go to the "all tabs" screen and close from there. Where as from the default UI, you can just select the 'x' on the right side of every tab.
  • "but on something that you take everywhere and don't ever want to think about losing, it's a great way to let someone who may find your lost Android phone know how to get in contact with it's owner" Do people actually do that? I mean do people actually return smartphones they find? If I found a $500+ smartphone and nobody asked for/about it, it's mine! Same thing vice versa, but I'm sure as hell not going to be stupid enough to leave an expensive & important device like that just lying around - it's either in my hand or in my pocket (jeans' pocket so it doesn't fall out). Stupidity doesn't deserve sympathy!
  • Seriously? Are you 10? Losing something is not stupidity. Keeping something that doesn't belong to you is, though. Justify your own bad behavior all you want, but it doesn't make you right. Just greedy. Hopefully, you will find yourself on the receiving end of somebody going out of their way to do something nice for you and you'll realize what a chump you sounded like today.
  • Just to let you know, if it is a CDMA phone this could possibly help. Seeing as how a CDMA phone is pretty useless if stolen. Whatever carrier can easily lock out the phones ID, rendering the device parts only.
  • "Do people actually do that?" Yes. There are few of us decent people left in the world, probably more than you think. Not everyone is a thief like you.
  • I returned an iPhone that I found on the golf course just last week. As it turned out, I was able to quickly track down the owner since he didn't have any security protection on the phone, and I was able to get it back to him in about 15 minutes. I don't consider myself a Dudley-do-right, but I really believe that a majority of other folks would have done exactly the same thing. If your conscience would let you steal one, and still sleep nights, so be it. What I gained from the experience is that it caused me to consider what would happen to my secured Droid X if I lost it, and it was found by an honest person. It took a combination of Widget Locker and Owner Info apps to allow me to implant the message on my locked screen for that person to be able to call my home, without sacrificing security, but I'm glad it happened as it did.
  • I can't wait for ICS. ICS on my G2X, ICS on my Transformer and most of all ICS on my Transformer 2. Oooh 'tis the season to be jolly!
  • I have been a Palm guy for so long, but it looks like that is not going anywhere, thanks to leo, the moron. Ice Cream Sandwich looks like it has most of the features I am already used to with webOS, plus with better hardware. (Admittedly, it would be hard to have WORSE hardware than we have had these past few years!) If they can incorporate most of this, it looks like I am phone shopping this weekend. I'm on ATT, so if you have any suggestions, I'm all ears.
  • I don't know about you guys but I was hoping to see a honeycomb type status / notification bar. All the reported leaks all have the same pull down bar with a few visual tweaks. With that said I'm really holding my breath for some gpu acceleration and a better, honeycomb like, browser. Tuesday night can't come soon enough
  • To be honest ,
    I hope they don't kill the Manufacturers customizations , MOTOBLUR , Sense UI , TouchWiz & Optimus UI does bring allot of stuff to Android I know most of you guys don't like OEM skins , thats just my 2 cents
  • If they only gave us #10, and nothing else, I'd be pretty damn happy. This is what Android needs the most, IMO. This is where a lot of the perceived 'lag' comes from when people weigh Android vs. other phone OS's.
  • 1. I have an issue with Android app removal way beyond your list item #1. I've had many instances where I install an app to try it and then uninstall it because I didn't like it, only to find out not all the storage space this app took is recovered upon uninstallation. Unlike Windows 7, where you can dig through the and folders as well as the Registry to clean up debris left by crappy uninstallers, Android does not allow you to access OS files (not even your /home/username directory) to clean out leftovers. So, I'd rather see Android with an uninstallation engine that truly removes everything, than having a trash icon to drag icons ala Mac OS. Now, if Google wants to give us both, I won't complain. :) 2. Screenshots please! I don't need to crack the software on my PC to take screenshots. Even the iPhone can take screenshots without jailbreaking. Why do we still have to root our Android phones just to be able to take screenshots?!?! 3. One area that needs improvements AND NEEDS THEM VERY BADLY, is Android's accessibility. As much as I hate the iPhone myself (for its restrictive form factor and iTunes dependency), I can't recommend anything but an iPhone to my blind friends, and I even have to tell them to stay away from Android. Android's accessibility is a bad joke. Even in an pure AOSP build, you can't access the web browser and email. All of the so-called accessible portions of the OS are only so if you have a device with a keyboard AND a d-pad/arrow keys. Nice for those of us who prefer hardware keyboards, but even Nexus phones are inaccessible while a blind person can do almost everything a sighted person can do with an iPhone with no hardware keys or buttons. No wonder Android manufacturers remove Accessibility options from their builds... they are useless for the dominating touch-only form factor! Are you listening, Google?
  • I hope to see Persian/Farsi/Arabic/Hebrew font support.
  • Maybe they will fix the Market app. That would be a good start.
  • I just want one thing, Smoothness.
  • I wanna see an exit/close app option on EVERY application. Not all the apps close when you hit the back button or home button. Also, it sucks having to keep hitting the back button in some apps just close them out. Also, I'd like to see more uniformity among Android so that ALL apps can be compatible with ALL Android phones and Tablets and not just some depending on the model you have.
  • This is *exactly* the kind of thing a good mobile OS will implement so that users don't have to worry about it. A user should NEVER have to think about what apps are open, use task killers, try to kill apps etc. Android, WP7 and iOS are all designed to suspend apps when memory is low and to resume them in the last state when you open the app again. The OS should handle this smoothly.
  • If an application is not shutting down properly when you press home or back, you should email the author or uninstall the application. I've seen some leave behind a thread, and I've emailed a few developers about it and some fix it. Those who don't, I uninstall. They're not worth my time to shut down and I won't give them even ad money. Do note that CACHED applications are not being executed and therefore take no battery life. If it's running a service, then it might take some.
  • I have noticed that a couple launchers, like LPP and GO Launcher, that have a couple of those features already in there, but I can see where you guys are coming from in that it would be nice to see these integrated into stock ICS devices. I never knew that Honeycomb had those great browser features, though. Great things are coming our way :D
  • Some rom's like MIUI already implement the 'drag to trash to uninstall' metaphor. How does Honeycomb handle removing icons from a screen but not uninstalling the app - is there a different UI for that?
  • You can remove icons from a homescreen by dragging them into the Applications button, just like you are used to. But drag an icon from the Applications list (not the homescreens) into a trash can and it gets uninstalled.
  • I'm sorry, ten things that you want to see and these are the 10 you pick ? These hardly push the envelope. Let's see multitasking with multiple windows, lets see a really exceptional upgrade to built in printer support, lets see exceptional upgrades to email with spam filtering and folder creation and deletion. Lets get serious with the wish lists here guys.
  • Most of the stuff you mentioned people don't care about. Most don't want/need to split their already small screen into sections to multitask. That's just silly. Similarly, very few people want/need to print from their phone. I have a Canon wireless multifunction that supports the Canon print app for Android. I played with it a couple times. I printed a picture from my phone just to see if I could, and that's about it. The 10 listed are excellent and way more universally desired improvements then the ones you are trumpeting.
  • It just occurred to me that they put the ICS statue on the lawn between the Gingerbread and Honeycomb ones. Is this symbolic of it's unifying nature or is it just that they had a good spot there?
  • I would LOVE all of these features and they would be crazy to not use those in ICS.
  • I have been waiting for the ability to put folders in the app drawer.
    To have just 5 to 10 items in the app drawer, say one for games, one for productivity, one for utilities etc. would be a big time saver.
    Black Berry has had this for years.
  • Thanks, Jerry for this helpful post. Ironically, you included 3 things on your list that I didn't realize that I already have available on my ASUS tablet, so it was an immediate reward to me.
  • Umm.. I've had the ability to drag an app to the trashcan to uninstall it forever on my Captivate. Is this a non-standard feature? cause I'm pretty sure my friend with an evo could to it too.
  • Maybe some professional looking icons... The ones I've seen in the leaked screenshots IMO look horrible.