Froyo? Gingerbread? Ice Cream Sandwich? Google's desert-themed codenames for Android are confusing for shoppers who just want a new smartphone. To make matters worse, most phone manufacturers slap their own software on top of Android, and updates can take months to roll out to phones. Some are never updated at all, leaving phones that launched with Froyo abandoned with no update to Gingerbread in sight. Google launched Android 4.0, codename Ice Cream Sandwich, on Samsung's Galaxy Nexus in late 2011. It was the first version of Android developed for both tablets and smartphones.
Will the Galaxy S III ship with that same version of Android? You bet. Samsung's not going to stick its flagship phone of 2012 with an outdated version of Android -- all the cutting-edge devices released in early 2012 will ship with Ice Cream Sandwich. However, the Galaxy Nexus was a special phone designed specifically for Google to show off "vanilla" Android without any modifications. The Galaxy S III will be all Samsung, allowing the company to make some subtle tweaks to the Android operating system with its TouchWiz skin.
TouchWiz, Samsung's custom skin for Android, has been a staple of its phones for years. Like the skins from HTC and Motorola, Samsung's is often criticized for being less responsive and functional than the stock, standard Android experience. Reviews of the last phone Samsung released before the Galaxy S III, the Galaxy Note, point out that TouchWiz has improvedgreatlyovertheyears. Ice Cream Sandwich is also the fastest and smoothest version of the Android OS yet. The Galaxy S III should offer excellent performance even with TouchWiz installed.
However, there's no guarantee Samsung will upgrade it to Ice Cream Sandwich's successor, whenever that Android update is released. If Samsung has already released several new phones by that time, they may leave the Galaxy S III on Android 4.0. The upgrade process with custom-skinned phones can take several months, as updates have to be built for separate carriers -- and with a planned international release, the Galaxy S III will be available on a whole heap of cellular networks.