A first taste of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean

Google has revealed the new features coming to Android Jelly Bean.

(Credit: Google)

Google pulled the wrapper off of its new flavour of Android, version 4.1, code named Jelly Bean, at its Google I/O 2012 conference. It sure looks sweet, but the question is: how useful will it really be?

Faster performance

According to Google, Jelly Bean is built to harness the power of mobile processors better in order to, as the company puts it, "improve CPU utilisation". That makes sense, since today's CPUs more often than not are dual-core chips, and quad-core CPUs are right around the corner. As part of the I/O 2012 demo, a Samsung Galaxy Nexus running Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) was pitted against the same phone using Jelly Bean.

Google crowed about how much more smoothly the Jelly Bean device scrolled through menu screens and rendered animations, calling the improved speed and slicker graphics silky and smooth. In fact, it's all called Project Butter. I, for one, welcome any way to make Android run buttery smooth, since that's a criticism Apple fans hurl in my direction often. Google also said that Jelly Bean devices will enhance battery performance, which always puts a smile on my face.

Resizable widgets

Taking a page perhaps from some its hardware partners, most notably Samsung and its Live Panel within TouchWiz, Jelly Bean will feature widgets that you can control the size of yourself. Widgets will also alter their size to fit around other widgets already placed on your phone's home screen. This is a feature I'd be happy to have, since one of the most frustrating notifications to receive in Android is that there's no more room on a given screen to drop your widget down upon.

Easier photo sharing

Ice Cream Sandwich brought new camera capabilities to Android phones, such as burst mode and snapping pictures while shooting video, which handset makers including Samsung and HTC have certainly exploited. Now, with Jelly Bean, Google will add a Filmstrip view for faster photo navigation. You can also crop photos for sharing and swipe away images that you can't stand with a quick finger motion to delete. It sounds good to me, since I'd much rather perform minor edits on my phone than have to muck around with images on a full laptop system.

Better predictive keyboard

First, let me say that I actually like the stock Android keyboard, ever since Gingerbread. I've always appreciated how word suggestions are placed on top of the virtual keys, and aren't forced on me through an autocorrect function. Google says, though, that it's made improvements to Jelly Bean's internal dictionary in an effort to be provide more accurate word-completion options.

Voice typing

Here's one of Jelly Bean's slickest improvements, something that Google calls Voice Typing. Essentially, you'll be able to dictate whole paragraphs to your Jelly Bean phone, and it will dutifully jot down what you say, even adding punctuation marks. Now that's a smartphone function that could really come in handy — if it works as advertised. Even better, Jelly Bean will place the tools needed to perform Voice Typing locally, so you'll be able to dictate offline and without a network connection.

Voice search

With Voice Search, it's clear that Google is gunning for Apple's Siri in a big way. Google has had what it calls Voice Actions for years, but Voice Search looks to be much more robust. While Voice Actions will launch some apps and initiate texts, emails and web searches, Voice Search seems to be intended to behave like a personal assistant, providing complete results in one central location.

Richer notifications

Notifications is one of the new buzz words in OS design. Android was a real pioneer here, placing system alerts front and centre in its notification bar in a pull-down window shade running along the top of the screen. Playing catch-up, Apple's iOS 6 has taken steps to beef up its notifications, too. Jelly Bean will push things further, supporting notifications that will allow complex actions and more ways to interact with alerts. For example, you'll be able to tap a missed call message and have the option to ring the caller back. Developers will also have the flexibility to craft custom notifications for their apps. Hopefully all the tweaks won't add complexity to an already highly configurable operating system.

Google Now

OK, here's a feature that honestly scares me. Google Now will lean heavily on Google searches that you've conducted in the past to learn your likes and better anticipate your wishes. It will also use real-time location data provided by your handset to make more targeted suggestions. For instance, if you're searching for a nearby restaurant, Google Now will understand that you often look up places to grab a nice bowl of noodles, and will ply you with local noodle spots. It'll even deduce your favourite sports team, and provide times for the next home game just in case you have a hankering for tickets.

Google Play refreshed

Google has revamped its Google Play entertainment store, as well. Now you'll be able to find TV episodes to complement its selection of movie and music titles. Additionally, no doubt in an effort to beef up what the new Nexus 7 tablet can do, Play will also feature magazines for download. Publishing partners include Hearst and Conde Nast, and you can buy single issues or subscriptions. It could catch on, but I'd rather sync Google Currents before I walk out of the door and get my reading material for free.


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EesK posted a comment   

I like Jelly Beans, nom nom nom :-)


StuartB2 posted a comment   

Well the os, chips and graphics are getting better, but my galaxy nexus only has 750 Mb of ram, nice to hear about the speed increase, perhaps this is something like the linaro version of ics. Chrome is now the default browser, looking foward to the nexus 7, just as soon as I can sell my kindle fire for $125.


Will1505 posted a reply   

The galaxy nexus has 1Gb of RAM however when andorid is running, it only shows 750mb because the OS uses the rest


lachlan.blake posted a comment   

I think Google actually LISTENED to users and implemented the sorely needed USB audio out: From http://developer.android.com/about/versions/jelly-bean.html:

"USB Audio

USB audio output support allows hardware vendors to build hardware such as audio docks that interface with Android devices. This functionality is also exposed with the Android Open Accessory Development Kit (ADK) to give all developers the chance to create their own hardware."

Proper audio devices for Android! Apple now has proper competition.


Will1505 posted a reply   

I can't help but think you could do the same with with android beam. Have a NFC and Wifi receiver in a audio dock, and away you go.


TechSheldon posted a comment   

People are arguing about when the update will be available on their devices, and all the **** that carriers and OEMs put on there, when they've the simple alternative of flashing custom ROMs... They make the phone better and more personal than what any of the updates actually released by your carrier do and you get them pretty much on release, with a variety of options. Hell, if you like touchwiz on your S2 but want Jelly Bean, I'd lay any bets that there will be a ROM with jelly bean and touchwiz on it.


cftbla posted a comment   

Manufacturers should just stop fiddling with Android. There are barely any overlays that improve the experience in my opinion - Samsung and arguably HTC - and the rest just overload it with bloat. My Nexus S is years old and it will still get Jelly Bean sooner than most recent phones. Google comes out with great new features and refinements and most Android users don't see it till it's already out of date. It's not the OS's fault, it's the hardware manufacturers. You can't really blame Google for taking control and making their own devices. Carriers simply compound the problem, by putting all their nonsense on there. Google's insistence on selling unlocked phones is commendable.


Im Batman posted a comment   

the question that keeps coming back to me is,
Why release jelly bean now?
With ICS only 9 months young, and a slow uptake by the OEMS to push it out to their devices.

I hope that they have pulled Jelly Bean release forward to aline with their developer conference.
Would make a bit of sense, this way you have the OS release and then you have dedicated time to take the developers through its feature... as apposed to having an announcement in Nov, and then essentially radio silence until June when you give the developers more info.

Also, my bet would be on that we will not see a Nexus phone until IO next year, when they announce the next OS.
So G Nexus is still a good buy


Will1505 posted a reply   

The real hope is that the next major update (5.0) rids the need to have carriers check updates all the time. Updates should go straight from manufacturers to the customer. The problem now is, carriers got the update, spend 8 weeks "testing" and if one little thing doesn't suit them about the update, they send it back to the manufacturer to get it changed.

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