If you want to play around with Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) but don’t have an Android phone or tablet, you can download the official Android SDK, or better yet, grab a preconfigured virtual machine that will run ICS in VirtualBox. Other than providing an interesting look at the primary competitor to iOS, virtual machines are useful for compatibility testing, and developers and designers should find some value in adding an Android VM alongside their Windows & Internet Explorer VM’s, giving this some practical use beyond the novelty factor.

Here’s how to run Android 4 ICS in VirtualBox:

  • Download VirtualBox and install it (free)
  • Grab a preconfigured ICS set up from VMLite (free)
  • Uncompress the Android-v4.7z file, look for “Android-v4.vbox” and double-click it to load and boot the configuration into VirtualBox
  • At the boot menu in VirtualBox, select the lower “Android Startup from /dev/sda” option
  • Let Android ICS boot

That’s really all there is to it. The VMLite configuration is complete with mouse support and you’ll find the blue cursor as a replacement for a touch screen. You can switch to full screen mode by pulling down “View” and selecting “Switch to Fullscreen”, just remember to hit Command+F is how to exit out of that. Hitting Command+C will run the VM in scale mode, which is what the screenshots are showing.

I ran this in Mac OS X 10.7, but VirtualBox is offered for Windows and Linux as well so it should work just about anywhere you try it. You can alternatively grab a variety of different versions from Android x86, I was able to use the android-x86-4.0-eeepc-20120101.iso successfully as well and it has the added benefit of some gesture support, although the boot iso’s require a bit more configuration within VirtualBox to get going. As mentioned before, the Android SDK is also free to download and includes an emulator, but the VM setups are much easier to get working quickly.

You can drag widgets and app icons onto the home screen, some are interactive and overall the homescreen/desktop is very customizable as a result.

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