Samsung Galaxy Nexus: The first, and so far only, Android to run Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4).

Quick! What’s the opposite of hasty? Or rushed? When it comes to bringing its nextgen OS to market, Google is doing anything but. Slowly is more like it. Or, thanks to, how about: leisurely, sluggishly, drowsily. Ok, scratch that last one. According to its own data, Ice Cream Sandwich (or Android 4.0, as the chronologically inclined might prefer to call it) holds only 0.6% of the market for Android devices.

Imperceptible by design

This, of course, is largely by choice. Only one device is available to consumers that runs ICS. And by all accounts the Samsung Galaxy Nexus (review) is impressing – at least the early adopters that is. Whether it’s burning up the sales charts or not, we won’t know until Google releases official numbers. Some estimate unit sales of 700,000 for the flagship smartphone.

In 2012 ICS will land on more devices. Expect a firestorm of announcements at CES in 2012 next week. Several vendors including Lenovo and Samsung have already announced upgrade plans for existing devices that running the older Android 2.x Gingerbread or Android 3.x Honeycomb variants.

Why the glacial pace?

I’m guessing it’s because Google want to get it right.

A lot is riding on ICS. This is the OS that is going to bridge tablets and smartphones, and possibly reduce the oft-discussed “fragmentation”.

Android Distribution (or “fragmentation”?). Source: Google.

By releasing it first on Nexus, Google gets it into the hands of early adopters–such as my Android-loving self–who then in essence test the bejesus out of the thing. Bugs are reported. Issues are discovered. The inevitable updates begin to roll out (now at 4.0.3 there have been three to date). Because we, the must-have-it-right-away geekset, are used to playing with beta or 1.0 products we know the deal. So it’s no biggie to Google or us, and massive negativity in the marketplace is avoided (though, the battery and some reception issues to make the rounds, but quickly abated). Google promptly squashes the major bugs, and as ICS begins to hit the masses across the hundreds of devices in Q1 2012, mainstream buyers will experience a smoother ride.

Google has done this before. Like with Gmail; first they lower expectation–“oh, it’s only in beta”–before eventually over delivering on a supreme user experience.

Another reason is that OEMs need time to test and update their product lines. Unlike Apple’s closed (“integrated”) approach, Google’s (relatively) open model means there are several vendors manufacturing Android devices.

The real shocking number, however, has to do with Honeycomb. Bad news bears, indeed. At just 3.3% share it’s an unmitigated bomb. Perhaps it’s not that surprising really, given the lack of consumer acceptance of anything but an Apple iPad tablet. Which might help explain why Google is taking its sweet time getting its new baby to market.

So when you see the 0.6% market share floating around today related to Android 4, keep in mind it’s by design. It’s merely the calm before the storm.