Learn about the technical differences between Gingerbread and ICS [Updated]

Ever thought about how Gingerbread (GB) and Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) platforms differ on a technical level? In this blog post, we’ll describe some of the technical differences between GB and ICS, and what the differences in the user experience might be. This way you can decide if ICS is right for you, or if you prefer to stay on Gingerbread. Maybe you will prefer the new UI in ICS, or do you give a higher priority to the extreme stability of the Gingerbread platform? Read more after the jump!

Now as you might have seen, we’ve continuously kept you updated on our work with the ICS upgrade, and we started by telling you about what we do to get the latest software release from Google working on our Xperia™ smartphones in the article Ice Cream Sandwich – from source code release to software upgrade. Then we released ICS alpha and ICS beta versions of the coming software upgrade.

However, although ICS is new and compelling in many ways, we would like all of our users to make an informed decision when selecting what Android™ software to use. We are actually proud to say that our Gingerbread software is very stable and has great performance, so it’s not a bad idea to stay on this release. Ice Cream Sandwich is more intensive, for example in terms of resource usage. As smartphones become more capable, our own applications, as well as the Google Mobile Services (GMS) applications, are becoming more advanced, which means that they require more CPU power, run more network activities and use more RAM. On the other hand, ICS brings a refined UI and some nice new features as described below.

Comparison of the look and feel in Gingerbread (left) and Ice Cream Sandwich (right).

New features in ICS
From a UI perspective, ICS is based on a new look and feel, the Holo theme. In order to accommodate the new look of Android, we decided to do an extensive touch up of our own assets, since the graphical assets of the Holo theme cannot be changed in any way as stated in the Android Compatibility Definition Document (CDD). New looks have been added in the platform layer as well as in the application layer. All in all, well over a thousand icons have been modified. In addition, we have deployed new wallpapers and application backgrounds, which harmonise more with the flatter graphical structures of ICS.

In ICS, the activity manager has a completely new UI, where all running apps are shown as thumbnails in a list. To close an activity, you can simply swipe it out of the list. ICS also introduces a face recognition app as a way to unlock the phone, called Face Unlock. Face Unlock uses the front-facing camera and advanced object recognition algorithms. It is included in our ICS upgrade for all phones that have a front-facing camera.

The contact list will show more information about the contacts, including updates from social networks. In the calendar, colour coding has been added and it is now possible to zoom. There is also support for a new type of voicemail that is more visual, offering transcriptions of voice messages.

When it comes to ICS, it’s a major upgrade of Android™, and there are a lot of things that have changed compared to the Gingerbread release. Some of these changes affect the performance and stability of the system, for example by using more CPU power and RAM. ICS was developed with Galaxy Nexus in mind, which is based on a TI platform with dual-core processor and 1GB RAM. We are now adapting ICS to run on our 2011 Xperia™ smartphones, which are all built on a Qualcomm platform with single core and 512 MB RAM. This means that in some cases, the resource usage in ICS is heavier on the system compared to Gingerbread. The following sections identify some key areas where there is a  difference between ICS and Gingerbread.

Increased RAM usage
In general, it can be said that the RAM is the working memory in the phone, used by running processes in contrast to the flash memory, which is mainly used to store things. As you might understand, this is a simplified explanation and might not be entirely true in all cases. However, it can serve as a help to understand the difference between the RAM and the flash memory of the phone. To see how much RAM is currently used, go to Applications in the Settings app of your Xperia™ phone.

Now, let’s look at how the RAM is used. Out of our 512MB RAM, about a third is used for functions that require a dedicated memory slot to operate fast enough. For example, this is the case for certain multimedia functions. The remaining space, which is at least 340MB, is reserved for the Linux user space, as required in the Android Compatibility Definition Document (CDD). Within the Linux user space, functions like the activity manager and Home screen app are running.

Another interesting thing is that many apps use slightly more RAM in ICS. For example, the web browser is quite intensive, and our measurements indicate that it uses 20-30MB more in ICS compared to Gingerbread. All in all, there are a lot of changes that together result in greater RAM requirement.

Illustration of the RAM usage.

When running low on RAM, typically with less than approximately 40MB left, the activity manager will start to close processes according to priority. At first, idle background activities are killed. The last thing to be closed down is the foreground activity. We have described this briefly in the table below. For more information, check out Android developers. (Please note that all figures mentioned about RAM usage are approximations and will differ depending on phone model and use case.)

Table showing different types of processes. When running out of RAM, the activity manager starts shutting down processes from the bottom and up, so that the last things to close are foreground and persistent activities.

Processes that are closed will obviously have to be restarted when the user enters the app again, which takes time and slows the system down. For example, when running a heavy game that uses all available RAM, the activity manager will be forced to kill all processes running in the background. This might include vital functions like the dialler and even the Home screen application. When you exit your game, there is a risk that the phone is perceived as slow, since the Home screen app will have to be restarted, just like every other activity you access afterwards.

Slower interaction with the SQL database
Another change in ICS compared to Gingerbread is that Google has moved a lot of the SQL handling from the native to the Java layer. In our internal studies, we have seen that read and write operations to the SQL database takes longer time, which slows down the apps. Many applications perform a lot of SQL operations when started, which greatly impacts the start-up time.

According to good practice, database operations or http requests should not be performed in the main thread. However, we know that there are quite a few applications that perform these kinds of operations directly in the main thread, which might cause them to hold up other operations. Also, when reading feedback on ICS software out on the market now, we’ve seen comments about people having problems with some applications and games.

If an operation takes too long, there is a risk of getting an Application Not Responding (ANR) as a result. An ANR occurs when an application doesn’t answer an intent, or responds to an input event, within a certain time limit. In case of intent, the time out is set to five seconds. For the input event, such as screen touch or button click, it’s ten seconds.

This can result in a user experience that is perceived as slower and less stable, due to longer response times and increased ANRs.

Introducing full hardware acceleration
Yet another change in ICS, is that the graphics hardware acceleration is on by default for all apps from API level 14. For apps at lower API levels, it can be turned on in the manifest with the attribute android:hardwareAccelerated=”true”. Hardware acceleration means that the GPU is used to render graphics, which enables a smooth user interface. However, it also results in at need to load additional graphic libraries for certain apps, which makes them use even more RAM.

When we performed internal tests on our applications, we saw that the Settings app consumed 1-2MB more RAM, and actually took longer time to start with HW acceleration, compared to without. Once the app is running, the UI is HW accelerated, but unless the app performs advanced graphics, the user will not see the difference.

Another effect of the hardware acceleration is that it can make the battery drain faster in some cases. An example of this is video playback, where the hardware acceleration requires every video frame to be run through the GPU, thus making the system use more power than it would have without HW acceleration.

As a developer, you should therefore evaluate if HW acceleration is required or not, as it comes with a cost in terms of RAM usage, start-up time and possibly even battery duration which can have negative effects on the user experience. You can read more about hardware acceleration in Ice Cream Sandwich on the Android Developers blog.

So, what will be your platform of choice? We hope this article clarifies some of the aspects to consider when making the decision. As always, we are eager to hear your opinion, so drop us a comment below and let us know! For more details on timing and practicalities on the ICS upgrade, check out this latest post on the Sony Xperia™ Product Blog.

Updated – comment from the Developer World team:

We we would like to clarify that above mentioned “challenges” have already been addressed by our SW engineering teams. For instance, we have not only optimised the RAM management by making the RAM usage for internal apps as good as possible, but we will also introduce a Performance assistant at start up when running ICS. In this Performance assistant, you can enable and disable certain services that you might not want to run on your phone, in order to optimise the performance of your phone.

We have also worked with quite a few partners in regards to architecture optimisations for SQL handling. In addition, we have also optimised the hardware usage. And as a result of this article, a number of app developers have notified us that they are evaluating if HW optimisation will be needed or not for their apps.

The aim of this article was to share our knowledge regarding the different characteristics for ICS and Gingerbread in an open way, as we strive to have an open communication with the developer community. All in all, we would like to point out that it’s our clear aim to deliver an as good ICS update as ever possible. As you might have seen on the Sony Xperia Product Blog, we’re not far from releasing it now. Thanks for all the feedback!

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  1. By Chaitanya reddy


    i updated Sony Xperia go(ST 27i) two days ago after updating 4.1.2 ( 6.2.A.0.400 ) i cant use applications some applications bugs in Walkman my tracks cant play continuously it suddenly stops. in album application i can’t see any pictures just blank screen so many bugs please fix and release new update as soon as possible..

  2. By lijo joy


    its been 8 months after the bug update 4.1.b.587 released and now no info from sony and support guys dont know anything in that case i think sony stop releasing.i dont think anything from sony update can fix all bugs together so i am saying please release a pc companion with 2 options 1 for gingerbread update,and other for ics update let user choose.i this case everyone can taste ics and revert back to gb..lol

  3. By Danijel Zizek


    i was update my ray on ics i then i was enter in safe mode. end after that i cant install enything i was try to reinstal ics, reset phone, hard reset,take batery out… what should i do

  4. By Feliks Gurevich


    Dear Anna,
    May I ask a question about software update. My phone is Xperia Mini (ST15i). Last software version is 4.1.B.0.587 release date 2012-08-16. It have many bugs like low fps vhen take video in 720p mode, terrible photo when use image stabilizer in 5mp mode and other. I think is not for hardware requirements of Android 4. May you told when be new software update for my phone? On support forum told that they don’t know and it’s question for developers. Thanks and sorry for bad english 😉

  5. By Haifa Yassine


    I just bought an Xperia SL a week ago, but the service centre had to downgrade it to android 2.3.7 because the WiFi wouldn’t work unless I remove my sim card, I’m in Syria and someone told me this had something to do with me being in Syria, I’m not sure why WiFi wouldn’t work with Android 4 in Syria, I just know that all Xperia SL owners in Syria have faced the same problem, and everyone I know who owns Xperia SL got their OS downgraded.. Is there a way I can update to ICS without losing the ability to connect to the internet via WiFi?

    Thanks a million times in advance! ^.^

  6. By Ayananjan Nag



    I had purchased Xperia S a month back, With GB 2.3.7, I’m receiving an update for 6.1.A.0.452. The issue is that whenever i try it through my PC the phone shuts down and nothing happens. Ive tried it through GPRS but the update gets stuck at different levels i.e 60%, 80% or even 100% but nothing seems to happen.

    Kindly advice


    • By Anna Aleryd


      Hi Ayan,

      Too bad you’re having troubles updating. Please go to the support forum and ask your question, there should be someone over there who can help you out. Good luck!

      Anna from Developer World

      • By Antony Ju


        Dear Anna,

        This is Antony Julian from India. My question are listed below need a clarifications from you.

        1. My OS is Android V 2.3.4 and if i upgrade it to V 4.0, Any problem will come..?

        2. My Regional language is not supporting in V 2.3.4 is it possible to make it support in V 2.3.4 or V 4.0

        3. If i convert my OS means my default internal memory is 512 MB, there any problem will come.

        These are the main issues im facing and running in mind about my phone. Remaining everything is fine. Hopefully looking for a positive reply from you

        G.Antony Julian

      • By Palak Kamdar


        Dear Anna,

        I have a sony Xperia SL and is facing a wierd problem since purchase.
        During any system upgrade, the USB cable is not recognised in the last stage i.e when the micro USB is to be connected simultaneously with pressing volume down button.
        My present version is ICS 4.0.4 and laptop OS is win 8.
        I went to sony service center where they upgraded my system software.
        The USB cable is also of Sony and is working fine otherwise.
        Pl. help me out if you can as following link is also not working :


        Regards, Palak

    • By Mario Nistal Jr


      In my opinion it is rather best to upgrade wireless instead of computer companion (using faster data connection of course such as WiFi or 3G.) Upgrade package will be downloaded directly to your phone and installation will be taken care of the system.

  7. By Meraz Siddike


    hi i have one sony ericsson xperia x10 mini. i have been using this phone last two years. but last week i wanted to unlock the boot loader and i followed the rules from http://www.xda-developers.com/. after doing this the sim card does not connecting and the boot loader is aslo locked yet. can anyone tell me how can i solve this problem.
    thank you.

  8. By Harrione teh


    I’m using Xperia pro, the performance is sometimes slow when I download too much apps. Although I changed my sd card to 16 gb, it doesnt changed anything. My phone is still lag as always. When I saw an update to android 4.0.4, I was so happy about it. I hope that my phone would have some upgrade and faster performance. After I upgraded my phone, my camera looks like blur than before, no front camera, no screenshot , performance more slow than gingerbread, lag than gb when I download more apps, screen become blur. Now I wish to downgrade back to gb, but seems like there is no downgrade for my phone.

  9. By Stalln B.


    hi guys,

    don’t just read the blog,you need to understand and comprehend. you had a 6-month old phone frm date of purchase, then u should understand the risk of upgrading ur phone, u know what to expect or at least you see ahead what will hppen after u do the upgrade.”after ur upgrade, from ordinary to become super ?—or you can try this from 2010 phone GB upgrade to 2012 ICS..bad idea? it is just because u heard that from GB can now upgradable to ICS, FAILURE! who do you think is to blame? ———is this the way you expect after the upgrade?” then I can say don’t upgrade, u’ll just greatly disappointed for sure..let’s make this simple. know ur phone’s built (structure,capacity, ability) first then search for possible upgrade…

    • By Mario Nistal Jr


      It is best to upgrade wireless (using faster data connection of course such as WiFi or 3G.) Upgrade package will be downloaded directly to your phone and installation will be taken care of the system.

  10. By parthasarathi dash


    Hi Sony Smart Phone Tech guys,

    Just day before yesterday, I have upgraded my SONY XPERIA U to latest 4.0 ICS, but after upgrading my phone, is no use, only free memory left is 53mb, i cannot open any of the pre-installed application, my phone is very slow, please help me on this or let me know how can i downgrade it to Gingerbread 2.3.7 version or let me know how to add extra memory in to it or give me an solution, with this situation i cannot work with my phone at all.

    If you want any other information please write to me at parthasarathi.4u@gmail.com


    • By Creative Digitz


      you can use flashtool to downgrade to gingerbread. Get the ftf file from xda-developers.com for your phone and flash it.

  11. By Parthasarathi Dash


    Hi Sony Tech Support Team,

    I just upgraded my Xperia U to ICS,after upgrading,my mobile memory is totally full & when i m going to see the usage under Settings-Device-Apps-Running-> “unfortunately,setting has stopped” message,how to get out of this & how can i increase my mobile performance,please let me know or elase let me know how can i downgrade to Ver.2.37, i think ICS is worst 🙁 then Gingerbread ver. 2.3.7.


  12. By Miha Kirbiš


    I still can’t get ICS, and there is only 1 reason why I want to get it. Because 2.3 Gingerbread (GB) sux ***, Xperia U is my first android phone and if all android handsets are this bad I don’t know how on earth android has over 60% smartphone marketshare, Because if you can just randomly name an annoying glitch … The (GB) Xperia U has it. It’s seriously barely usable, like It’s in alpha development state or something. What was Sony (or Google or whoever) thinking? GPS, wifi, messaging, listening to music, the battery, data traffic, taking a call … all of the basic functions of a smartphone, all of them either had or still have a glitch that made it completely unusable. Let me give you example of it’s terribleness: I was listening to music via ear buds and received a call. I pulled the ear buds out of the phone, and answered the call. It was completely mute, and the volume was on max. For some reason all speakers decided to stop working. I tried to call back, and the microphones still wouldn’t work. So I had to turn the phone off. On another occasion I made a call and when I finished the phone refused to end it, I was just clicking on “end call” and it didn’t do anything. So I had to turn it off again. I also had numerous issues with wifi and GPS. And when I once tried to text somebody, all the letters just disappeared. It happened a couple of times when my battery showed it has 67% battery left, went on wifi, 15 minutes later, it has only 13% left in it! How, why, when??!! All in all it has so many issues and bugs and problems and glitches … If it wasn’t my phone I would have thought they’re having a laugh. And yes of course my phone is “up to date” I repaired the software twice, never really did anything. This is my third Sony (Ericsson) phone, and by far the most modern, advanced and stylish however unfortunately by far the worst. What has happened to Sony in the past 5 years?

  13. By Eir Apps


    I upgraded my Xperia Sola to ICS and I regret it. I gained nothing and lost the smoothness of the system. It use to “fly” with GB, now it’s just lagging. Such a pity. Is there a way to revert to Gingerbread again?

    • By Anna Aleryd



      As a user you can’t go back to Android 2.3 on your own. However by handing in the phone at a service centre you can request to have it re-installed with Android 2.3. Please note that all user data will be erased when re-installing Android 2.3 from Android 4.0, so be sure to do a proper backup of your data before handing in the phone to a service centre. The reason why userdata needs to be erased is that database architectures have changed between Android 2.3 and 4.0.

      Anna from Developer World

      • By Antony Ju


        Dear Anna,

        From your reply the backup should has to be taken for the software updation but my question is if i update it means any internal problem will come. My mobile model is Xperia Arc S and its internal memory in only 512MB. if i switched it from V 2.3 to V 4.0…?

        G.Antony Julian

        • By Anna Aleryd



          It is impossible to for me to advice on what you should do, since the performance of your phone after the upgrade is tightly tied to how you use the phone. For example, if you have a lot of apps installed it may slow down the performance. This article aims to clarify some of the differences between GB and ICS, and hopefully it can help you decide what SW version is right for you.

          Anna from Developer World

          • By Antony Ju


            Dear Anna,

            Thanks for you reply and happy that im using less then 10 apps. So planning to update it.


      • By parthasarathi dash


        Hi Anna Aleryd,

        So you mean, there is no other way to downgrade by self, we have to take help from SONY service centre, if this is the case then why are you giving upgrade option to such phones like SONY XPERIA U to upgrade it to ICS 4.0 as it doesn’t have enough memory & why are you suggesting to downgrade if you cannot develop it properly so that it can support ICS4.0. I have upgrade my XPERIA U to ICS4.0 just a day before & now it is useless I just don’t want this version because it has taken all my free memory.

        One more Question- If we are going to SONY centre for downgrading our phone to ver.2.3 (Gingerbread), are they going to charge money for this or will it be free?


        • By Anna Aleryd


          Hi Partha,

          Unfortunately, this is out of Developer World’s area as we have a focus on developer issues. Therefore, I have to ask you to contact your Service Centre for more information. Please also visit our support forum at talk.sonymobile.com, where this type of questions are discussed.

          Anna from Developer World

          • By poppo wit


            Had the same surprise when I upgraded my Xperia U to ICS: It is quite useless now. One minute startup times for an app is no exception. So, Sony why do you offer ICS in the first place to phones with only 512 MB ram?

            And why is the Xperia U not in the downgradable list for the flashtool, while the 1024 Mb ram phones like the S are? This all seem a bit stupid.

            So now I have to get a Sony service center to downgrade to 2.3? I have no clue as to why you do not simply offer downgrades as well as upgrades? How difficult can that be?