The list of new features on Ice Cream Sandwich is as long as your arm. The weirder ones tend to jump out quickest, like Face Unlock. That’s where the phone stores a picture of your face and then makes sure it’s really you trying to unlock the phone and not some stranger. This, of course, means keeping your phone updated on any potential facial hair and keeping it away from your evil twin.
Then there’s the very sci-fi-sounding Android Beam, which is a way of transmitting information from very short distances. Kartik Hosanagar teaches at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and says, “For example, I’m browsing a page on my phone, you want to access that same page, we tap our phones together and that page shows up on your phone. Both iPhone and Android to some extent have this feature because of an app called Bump, but it’s not been native to the OS.”
Pai-Ling Yin of MIT’s Sloan School of Management is fond of the data measuring capability, which might come in handy in an age where wireless carriers are more likely to cap the amount of data you can use. “This new feature,” says Yin, “will allow the consumer not only to monitor how much data they’re using and get detailed information, but also to set up alerts and caps on their own phone so that they don’t have to go over those limits and won’t be stuck with a really expensive bill at the end of the month.”
October has been kind of a boom month for operating systems. Apple’s new iOS 5 just came out and BlackBerry announced (although has yet to demonstrate) a new system called BBX. It’s often the apps or the hardware that get praised as containing the magic of a smartphone, but Hosanagar says don’t shortchange the OS: “At the end of the day, the apps can only do the things that the operating system supports. If an operating system has native support for a lot of features, voice, video and so on, it makes the apps faster, better and sometimes certain apps that were infeasible, it makes them feasible. So the OS is absolutely crucial.”
But! As with a lot of technology, you have to be careful. The tech companies want you to upgrade and ideally buy new phones that can handle the new OS. Just make sure your machine can handle it and you’re not putting a jet engine in a Hyundai. Says Yin, “It can slow down your device because it is going to draw on more of the power of your device just to be able to make the hardware as well as software functionality better. And there is a danger sometimes that especially with these third party developers, if they haven’t developed the app for a particular operating system, and you upgrade, despite the best efforts by the platform developers, they may not always be compatible with the new operating system.”
Also in this program, another edition of Robot Roundup. This time, starring robotic telescopes that can help you see the stars, robots that spray foam to make other robots, and robots that solve a Rubik’s Cube in record time.