The fifth Google I/O began today amidst much anticipation fueled by recent announcements, rumors and leaks regarding Google’s flagship Android tablet, and the latest version of their mobile OS, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, which is what we’ll be discussing here. Although not as huge an iteration as Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean adds a lot of much sought-after features, interface tweaks and improvements, while keeping almost all of its overall look the same as that of the former. Join us after the break for a summary of the salient new features and improvements in Jelly Bean.
Through all iterations of the Android OS, one very prominent blemish has been its comparatively slower UI. Slower compared to its major competitors (iOS & Windows Phone), that is. Jelly Bean aims to fix this. Labeled Project Butter, the combination of Vsync, triple buffering and greater touch responsiveness is sure to make interactions with the interface feel much, much faster and smoother. The frame rate of the Jelly Bean UI seems to be miles ahead of its predecessor (as can be seen in the video embedded below), and going by the demo presented at Google I/O, the same can be said about its responsiveness, which is driven by a new model that increases the CPU’s processing speed every time the OS detects a touch.
Expandable & Actionable Notifications
The new notifications come packed with more information and actions, enough to help you perform all essential tasks from within the notification drawer, without having to actually launch each individual app. You will be able to drag down on a notification with two fingers to expand it for extra info and options (such as previews for multiple text and Gmail messages, Google+ photo previews, +1 and Reshare options for Google+ notifications, Comment and Like for Foursqaure, Call back and Message for missed calls, etc).
Improved Keyboard With Next Word Prediction
Jelly Bean boasts new and improved text input with Swiftkey and Swype-like next word prediction. The accuracy of the prediction is yet unknown, of course. Though, seeing as it’s Google’s work, I’m guessing it’ll be as good as, if not better than, that of the aforementioned keyboard replacement apps.
Offline Voice Typing
That’s right. Jelly Bean will allow users to dictate to their devices without an internet connection. This is something that Android users have been craving for since forever. third-party apps have been offering for quite a while now, but compared to Google’s speech-to-text, their functionality is extremely limited.
Smarter Home Screen With Auto-Arranging Of Icons & Widgets
The JB home screen takes a page out of the iOS book with the addition of auto-arrange. This feature will automatically arrange both icons and widgets for you as you move them around and between different home screens. For example, if you move a widget to a home screen that doesn’t have enough space for it, the widget will be resized to fit within the empty space on said screen.
Jelly Bean will come with gestures and speech feedback for blind users. It will allow installation of accessibility plugins to connect external braille input devices through Bluetooth.
Enhanced Camera App With A Filmstrip View & Faster Deletion
The Camera app has been improved to facilitate faster switching between the camera viewfinder and captured photos. You can swipe in from the right of the screen to jump to your captured photos and pinch to switch to a new filmstrip view, where you can quickly swipe a photo up off the screen to delete it. Accidental deletes can be undone.
Improved Android Beam
In Jelly Beam, you will be able to tap two NFC-enabled Android devices together to share photos and videos as well. Moreover, you will be able to pair your Android device in the same manner with Bluetooth devices that support Simple Secure Pairing. That’s right; through a simple tap, without having to manually search for and pair with them.
Enhanced Google Search, Voice Search
Google Search has received a complete UI overhaul, now makes use of Google’s Knowledge Graph to provide the best results from various sources and allows more natural queries (for example, “how tall is the Eiffel Tower?”). Voice Search has a voice of its own this time around. It too allows natural queries, provides equally natural responses (much like Siri), and the voice output sounds much more human-like than any other.
It’s a little too early to be comparing Jelly Bean’s Voice Search to Siri. Though, the former does seem like it could give the popular iOS voice assistant a run for its (her?) money. If not alone, then coupled with Google Now.
Arguably the most significant addition to the OS, Google Now is a smart search assistant of sorts with a plethora of functions. It can be launched by tapping the search bar on the home screen or swiping up from the bottom edge of the screen (which means it should be accessible from anywhere within the OS).
Google Now aims to assist you with several on-the-go requirements. It detects where you are and provides you with optimal routes to required destinations. According to your current location, it tells you when to set off for your next appointment – which it fetches from your calendar events – picks the shortest route and estimates your time of arrival. That’s not all. Google Now will cater for your flight tracking needs and automatically provide you with essential info (like currency conversion rates) while your travelling. It displays suggestions for places near your current location that you might fancy, keeps you up to date with your favorite sports teams and allows you to purchase tickets to their events from within its interface.
The best thing about it is that you don’t have to go through the trouble of making the queries yourself; it automatically fetches everything for you and arranges it in separate cards within its UI, which changes its header with respect to the current location and time of day.
Barring Google Now and the new notifications, the changes introduced in Android Jelly Bean might seem insignificant to a few at first glance, but they are sure to change user experience dramatically. Project Butter, in particular, could silence all those anti-Android taunts that label the OS invariably laggy.
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean will begin to roll out for Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S and Motorola Xoom in mid-July.