Google, Samsung Unveil Galaxy Nexus Ice Cream Sandwich Phone


As expected, Google (NAS: GOOG) and Samsung unwrapped the Galaxy Nexus, Google's latest flagship phone and the first running the newest version of Android 4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich. Interestingly, the device will support LTE in some markets, and starting in November will be available in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia.

Google and Samsung unveiled the device Wednesday morning in Hong Kong, hours after many of the details of the phone leaked online. The device is the third in a series of devices designed to highlight a pure Google Android experience and serve as a lead device for the latest version of the software. HTC made the original Nexus One, and Samsung produced the Nexus S.

The Galaxy Nexus sports high-end hardware in addition to its bleeding-edge software. The device offers HSPA+ 21 and will also have LTE support in some versions. The Galaxy Nexus runs a dual-core 1.2 GHz Texas Instruments OMAP processor, has a 4.65-inch HD Super AMOLED screen, 5-megapixel rear camera with zero shutter lag and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, Wi-Fi and support for Near Field Communications.

Despite the flashy hardware, the new software is the true heart of the Galaxy Nexus. Ice Cream Sandwich is designed to run on both smartphones and tablets and is intended to bridge the gap that was opened up with Android 3.0, or Honeycomb, which was specifically designed for tablets. The software includes an improved browser with the ability to sync users' bookmarks with Google's Chrome browser, a new keyboard, notifications that are more interactive and resizable widgets. There are also improvements to Gmail, the calendar application and a new People app, which combines high-resolution photos and updates from Google+ and other social networking services. Ice Cream Sandwich also supports a new service called Android Beam, which uses NFC to share webpages, YouTube videos, maps, directions and apps by simply tapping two phones together.

Shortly after the introduction of the Galaxy Nexus, Andy Rubin, Google's senior vice president for mobile, appeared at AllThingsD's Asia:D conference to talk about the phone and Android in general. "We want it to be intuitive," Rubin said of Ice Cream Sandwich's user interface, adding that Google wants Android devices to be extensions of people's lives. "Ice Cream Sandwich is the best we've ever done," he said.

The Galaxy Nexus is being introduced at a time when Android is more powerful than ever before. Android captured 43.4 percent of the global smartphone market in the second quarter, according to research firm Gartner, and Google said 550,000 Android devices are activated per day.

"I guess my competitors would be anybody who is in the platform business," Rubin said of the company's mobile competition. "Apple (NAS: AAPL) builds an operating system. Microsoft (NAS: MSFT) builds an operating system."

And what of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (NAS: RIMM) ? "I think they're very smart," he said. "They're Canadian." Rubin added that with QNX software RIM can retool its offerings.

Rubin also addressed worries that Google's pending acquisition of Motorola Mobility (NYS: MMI) will lead it to favor Motorola at the expense of other Android licensees. He said the acquisition is partly about gaining access to Motorola's patent portfolio to protect Android but also said a Google-owned Motorola would operate "at arm's length" from the Android unit.

The Android chief also said there are currently 6 million tablets on the market running Google's services, but conceded Google has a long way to catch Apple and its iPad. "Six million is pretty healthy but it is not 30 million," he said. "Obviously, we need to get there." He also said that he does not think there needs to be tablet-specific apps and that Ice Cream Sandwich eliminates the need for that distinction.

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