It’s the end of an era. After seven years, Google is ending support for Android 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). The launch of ICS was a pivotal moment for Androidand has a lot to do with its current dominance. Anyone still using an Android device with a version of 4.0 going forward will have a hard time finding compatible apps and services.
Google announced Android 4.0 and the Galaxy Nexus at an event in Hong Kong on October 19, 2011. The big reveal was originally supposed to take place a week earlier, but Google delayed the event out of respect for Steve Jobs when he passed away after a battle with cancer. ICS was the first version of the platform on which newly minted design head Matias Duarte had extensive input. It was a hugely important update because Android had split into two branches over the preceding 18 months. There was Gingerbread for phones, and Honeycomb for tablets. Ice Cream Sandwich brought them back together as a single platform for all devices.
ICS introduced many features you can still see in smartphones to this day including the navigation bar, face unlock, screenshot capture, and individually swipeable notifications. It also completely revamped the look and feel of the OS, which was all over the place before 4.0. All these years later, it looks and feels pretty old.
Google says Ice Cream Sandwich’s usage share has been below 1 percent for years, so the end of support won’t affect many people. In fact, many apps and services had already stopped supporting ICS, and even services that claimed to have support were often busted. Google’s own apps have focused on Android 4.1 and later for the last couple of years.
The latest changes don’t mean that the few remaining ICS devices will stop working or that they’ll suddenly work any worse than they already do. First, Google won’t allow developers to publish apps that support the API level for ICS — that’s API 14 and 15. That means the oldest supported version of Android in the Play Store is Android 4.1 Jelly Bean (API 16).
The other change is on Google’s end. Devices running ICS will no longer get updated to new versions of Play Services, which is forever locked at 14.7.99. Without new Play Services update, many of the integrated Google functionality will break over time. Even apps that do support ICS will end up failing as they search for Play Services components that don’t work.
Android is open source, so there’s nothing stopping someone from grabbing the ICS code and building something with it. However, no one is going to do that when there are newer versions of the platform. Google is moving on from ICS, which means it’s dead for all intents and purposes.