Android Ice Cream Sandwich adds NFC P2P and biometric security

Android 4.0 includes an NFC peer-to-peer sharing technology called Android Beam and a facial biometric technology called Face Unlock that replaces the need to enter a PIN to unlock a phone.

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
ANDROID 4.0: Tablet and smartphone versions converge into a single platform

Google has unveiled the latest version of its Android operating system. Android 4.0 ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’ is designed to run on both phones and tablets and includes two new NFC-related features, Android Beam and Face Unlock:

Android Beam

Android Beam is an NFC-powered sharing platform that lets “people instantly exchange favorite apps, contacts, music, videos — almost anything,” says Google. “It’s incredibly simple and convenient to use — there’s no menu to open, application to launch, or pairing needed. Just touch one Android-powered phone to another, then tap to send.”

With Android Beam, information and data is shared instantly between two devices but applications are not shared directly. Instead, when two users wish to share an app, a link to Android Market is sent from the first device to the second so that the app can be downloaded — and paid for if required — by the new user. “Individual apps can also build on Android Beam to add other types of interactions, such as passing game scores, initiating a multiplayer game or chat, and more,” says Google.

Android Beam works with both the Simple NDEF Exchange Protocol (SNEP) peer-to-peer mode specification published by the NFC Forum last month and Google’s own NDEF Push Protocol (PDF), a P2P technology released by Google earlier this year ahead of the release of SNEP.

“Beaming a video with a single tap or unlocking a device with only a smile sounds like science fiction.” says Andy Rubin, senior vice president of mobile at Google, writing on the Official Google Blog. “Now, you can actually do these things (and more) with a phone that fits in the palm of your hand.”

Face Unlock

Face Unlock is a new screen-lock option that lets users unlock their devices with their faces. “It takes advantage of state-of-the-art facial recognition technology to register a face and to recognize it later when unlocking the device,” says Google. “Users just hold their devices in front of their faces to unlock, or use a backup PIN or pattern.”

Google Wallet users are currently required to enter a PIN each time they make a transaction. There’s no word yet on whether it will be possible to use Face Unlock instead of a PIN for Google Wallet transaction confirmations but a number of companies have been working on integrating biometrics with NFC for transaction security and fingerprint security is already a common phone feature in Japan.

The Verge has a video showing Face Unlock in action:

The new Galaxy Nexus phone, also unveiled today, will ship with Ice Cream Sandwich. It will also be possible to upgrade most Gingerbread devices, including the Nexus S, to Ice Cream Sandwich, Google’s Gabe Cohen has told Engadget.

The SDK is available for developers to download today and detailed developers’ notes are available from Android Developers.

The launch video for both the Galaxy Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich shows some of the NFC features in action:

Other new features in Ice Cream Sandwich include a new look and feel for Android, a redesigned user interface with improved multi-tasking and notifications, and a full web browsing experience. Ice Cream Sandwich also features a new People app, which lets you browse friends, family, and coworkers, see their photos in high-resolution, and check their latest status updates from Google+ and other social networks.

“Ice Cream Sandwich demonstrates the Android platform’s continued innovation with one release that works on phones and tablets and everything in between,” says Rubin. “Features like Android Beam and Face Unlock show the innovative work our team is doing, and Galaxy Nexus showcases the power behind Ice Cream Sandwich.”

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