Google unveiled the latest iteration of Android at its I/O developer conference earlier this week. Version 4.1 not only carries the tasty moniker Jelly Bean, but manages to bring several new features, enhancements and refinements to the entire Android OS.
Let’s run down some of the most notable changes.
- Revamped notification center with expandable and actionable notifications
- Project Butter brings smoother and faster responding user interface
- Google Now adds automatic information feeds to your device (traffic, weather, sports)
- Updated widget behavior
- Improved camera and gallery apps for easy photo snapping and sharing
- Updated keyboard with with word prediction
- More Accessibility options with support for external Braille input
- Enhanced Android Beam with Bluetooth integration
- Offline Voice typing and recognition
- Google Voice search is more intelligent than ever
- Updated Google Search user interface
- Bi-Directional text and additional language support
- Ability to add high-resolution contact photos
- USB audio output and HDMI multichannel audio output
There’s no question that Android has suffered from lag issues in the past, but Google is really smoothing things out in Jelly Bean with Project Butter. Animations have been an integral part of Android since the early days and in the latest release, they finally perform as they were intended. By upping the frame rate to 60 fps, Google has given the UI a new lease on life, allowing for a fluid and buttery smooth experience. Google engineers didn’t stop there. In fact, they set out to design a brand-new triple buffering system which caches previous sessions and allows the CPU, GPU and display to operate simultaneously, using the same resources .
The new system is so responsive to touch that it can actually anticipate where a user’s finger is going to land and pre-load any animations it may need to display when the touch input is made. Previously, devices have been prone to software limitations, but Project Butter allows Android to take full advantage of the hardware it’s running on.
In our testing, we’ve found that occasionally when scrolling through pages or menus, the device will “snap” back. You’ll move your finger one way and the page will bounce back to the previous one. It seems to have something to do with the enhanced touch response, but it doesn’t happen frequently and is something that only occurs when moving around at ultra high speeds.
To show the new performance optimizations, Google enlisted the help of RED’s ultra high-speed camera. You can see the massive improvements throughout the UI in the video below.
The folks from Mountain View are touting their new Google Now service as one of the primary new additions to Jelly Bean. No, it isn’t Google’s version of Siri. Although it can accomplish many of the same things as Apple’s virtual voice assistant, Google Now is deeply integrated into the OS and does different things in different ways. In fact, Google Now constantly learns about a user through their daily routine. The sites you look at, the videos you watch, the weather you ask for and the appointments on your calendar are all taken into account to provide you with better, more accurate search results.
The service works by generating “cards”, no doubt taken from Matias Duarte’s days at Palm. You can launch the platform directly from the lockscreen and it will display information that it believes is relevant to you based on your location and usual activities. For example, if you’re headed to work in the morning, Google Now will alert you if there is a traffic jam or construction taking place on your normal route and find you alternate directions. It’ll even let you know what time you should leave to assure that you get to your job on time.
Google Now integrates Voice search, which gives users an easier way to discover content they want. Simply ask a question like, “what is the tallest building in the world?”, and the service will give the answer and even show you a picture of the Burj Khalifa. Essentially, Google Now is built to make your life easier by showing you only information that you want.
To see Google’s new personal assistant in action, check out the introduction video below.
Jelly Bean has brought a completely revamped notification window. Not only has the clock, date and setting icon been overhauled, but Google has even tweaked the Roboto font to display messages and alerts more clearly. However, the update isn’t all about enhanced beauty. Developers have created “smart” notifications, giving users the option to expand notifications to reveal content or facilitate interaction.
For example, if a user is alerted of newly posted Google+ pictures, they can simply pull down the notification window and use two fingers to swipe downward and reveal the photos directly in the notification tray. This works for nearly all of the stock applications and the API has been opened up to developers so your favorite apps can take advantage of the new feature.
Offline Maps and Voice Typing
Google showed off its brand new Offline Maps service, allowing users to archive a region and access parts of the application without being connected to the internet. Currently, the offline service is only available in certain regions, so your city may not be supported initially. However, Google plans to roll out several new locations in the future. Previously, this was only available as a special “Labs” feature.
Voice typing was a commonly utilized feature in previous versions of Android, but has always required an active data connection to decipher your words. With Jelly Bean, that frustration will come to an end. Google has shrunken down the entire database to fit on your phone, so you can tell your phone what to type, no matter where you are.
The camera app has been updated to offer some much welcomed visual effects and enhanced functionality, making the whole process much easier (and prettier) to use. As you snap a photo, it flies off the screen sideways and into the gallery. By swiping your finger to the right, you can follow the photo and enter the gallery to view your recent images. Once you’re in, you can view your pictures in another “card”-like interface. If you aren’t happy with a photo, you can easily delete it by swiping upward.
Android Beam Overhaul
One of the lesser-used features that came with the announcement of Ice Cream Sandwich last year was Android Beam, an NFC-based technology that allowed users to transfer files directly between devices. Unfortunately, not every device is equipped with NFC, so in Jelly Bean Google made the service compatible with Bluetooth, something that most Android users are familiar with. Now virtually everybody can get in on the Android Beaming action. With Jelly Bean, you can share photos, videos, calendar appointments and contacts all with a simple tap regardless if you have NFC or not. Furthermore, users can use Android Beam to pair their device with other Bluetooth enabled devices like speakers, headsets and computers.
Even though it’s just an incremental release, Google has gone all out with Jelly Bean. Don’t think of it as a polished build of Ice Cream Sandwich, because it’s much more than that. The new software adds tons of new features and really creates a more cohesive user experience. Although the look remains very similar to its predecessor, the touch response and enhanced notifications makes it feel like an entirely new OS. Google Now offers endless possibilities and could potentially prove to be a powerful addition to the Android ecosystem. Most importantly, Jelly Bean optimizes Google’s software to take advantage of every bit of a device’s hardware to ensure you’re getting the best possible experience.
As with any new Android release, don’t expect to see Jelly Bean arrive on any non-Nexus hardware in the near future. Manufacturers likely won’t catch on until much later this year. Although, if you’re the ROM-flashing type and you’ve got a fairly recent handset, you can expect to see early builds for your device start appearing in June.
So, what do you think of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean? Is there anything you would have changed?