Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto

As pretty much every Android fan knows, the Ice Cream Sandwich (a.k.a. 4.0) announcement finally happened last night and it was more of an announcement than I expected. The main focus of the presentation was the much needed cleanup and refinement of the UI. Sure, there were the usual demo features like face unlock (despite the demo fail) and some major enhancements related to photography which users will appreciate. As a user, I was quite happy with the changes this release brings as they addressed most of the areas where I thought Honeycomb was weakest. As a developer, I was watching the presentation looking for things that would either require significant rework or new features to take advantage of. I was pleasantly surprised on both fronts. Oh yeah: and the phone looks great too!

Shortly after 11 PM EST I was able to start the download of the 4.0 SDK and supporting tools. Aside from having to restart the download at a couple of points (most likely due to what I assume were many thousands of developers hitting their servers at that time), I think I had everything up and running by about 12 or 12:30 AM. There were a couple of minutes of concern when all of my projects appeared broken. It turned out to not be a big deal and one that Google had well documented: an optimization made in 4.0 requires that library resource constants are not declared as final and as a result breaks switch statements. Simple enough to fix (there's even a 'quick fix' that will make the code changes for you.) The resulting speed improvements when initially opening a workspace referencing multiple libraries is spectacular. My main workspace which previously took 1-2 minutes before it was done loading and compiling on an i7-2600 dropped down to about 20 seconds. So far, the switch change is the only problem I've run into... pretty painless.

There are across the board improvements to the SDK, tools, and the emulator which I'm sure I'll be noticing in the weeks to come. However one improvement jumped out at me right away: the emulator is somewhat usable now. It's still pretty slow but unlike the 3.x emulator images, I was actually able to successfully run a couple of my apps in it and things were actually working. Still not a great substitute for an actual device, but a vast improvement and I'm sure Google will continue to improve it. At its core, 4.0 looks like a cleaner and more polished Honeycomb. In fact, most of the features that will seem new to people who have only used Android on a phone were actually implemented back in Honeycomb which is a very good thing. My main concern re: Ice Cream Sandwich was that Google would have a knee-jerk reaction to the criticism 3.x has received and revert to a more 2.x look and feel, or worse go in some new direction. They did not and are staying the course with the many good ideas that Honeycomb introduced.

Right now, I'm a pretty happy developer: the decision I made to focus on 3.0+ app development appears to have been the right one and it looks like a significant number of the 2.3 devices currently out there should be seeing an upgrade to 4.x in the coming months. Hopefully Google will be doing a code drop soon as I still have some outstanding questions and issues with my 3.x code that can't be fully addressed until that happens. I'm looking forward to getting my hands on the latest Nexus device for final testing but in the meantime they've given me the tools I need to get my apps ready for 4.0 while continuing to support 3.x with minimal effort.

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