Months later than we initially expected, Google finally took the wraps off the next version of its Android operating system at an event on Wednesday in San Francisco. The barely changed Android 4.3 isn't the giant leap we expected, but it is noteworthy, particularly for its performance improvements and new Restricted Profiles feature.
Officially, Android 4.3 is still a version of Jelly Bean, which makes sense, considering the minor nature of its changes. But, of course, this may disappoint Android fans, whose mouths have been watering for Key Lime Pie since Google I/O in May.
For the most part, Android 4.3 appears to be much like its predecessor. The general make-up of the home screen and app drawer looks the same, and Google Now, Search and Notifications all feel familiar. That said, the updated Jelly Bean does have some important additions that are worth mentioning.
Multi-User Restricted Profiles
One of the biggest additions to Android 4.3 is the Multi-User Restricted Profiles feature, which lets you control the usage of apps and other content on a user level. It's worth noting that iOS currently does not support multiple user profiles, and the functionality has long been requested by Android users.
The people most obviously to benefit from the new profile controls are parents. We saw this in Google's demo; being logged in to a restricted user profile caused an app to behave differently. Specifically, a freemium game showed up without all of the in-app purchasing functionality, which is clearly going to be common for parents with young children who use the device.
The ability to create restricted user profiles can be useful for businesses and families that share devices.
In addition, retail kiosks that use tablets for customer service or as point-of-sale (POS) systems will be able to make use of the feature. By enabling multiple user profiles, businesses will be able to take advantage of the versatility of tablets by using them in different contexts.
With Restricted Profiles, Google is obviously trying to lure more users — specifically, parents and businesses — away from iOS, a platform that still lacks the functionality.
Bluetooth Smart technology
Support for Bluetooth Smart technology is another addition to Android 4.3 that wasn't all that unexpected, considering it's been available on iOS since early 2012. With this, the updated Android now allows you to connect with the newer generation of power-efficient accessories that use Bluetooth Smart. And, of course, the Smart connection should be less taxing on your device's battery.
During Google's presentation, we saw an Android device connecting with a Bluetooth Smart-enabled heart-rate monitor that was being powered by the popular Runtastic app.
Open GL ES 3.0
A big deal for gamers, Open GL ES 3.0 makes the new version of Android more efficient and just plain better at displaying graphics. Google's demo showed us impressive textures, lens flares and reflections that the older OS would have had trouble displaying. While the upgraded graphics might be indiscernible to the average user, Open GL ES support is still important because of the new possibilities it opens up for developers.
With Open GL ES 3.0 support, Android 4.3 displays textures and reflections with stunning detail.
(Credit: James Martin/CNET)
What we think
Is Android 4.3 something to get excited about? Probably not. The bulk of the improvements appear to be under the hood, and the biggest front-end addition that Google demoed — Restricted Profiles — was geared toward parents and businesses.
While many Android users have been crossing their fingers for the OS' next iteration to be version 5.0, Key Lime Pie, this performance-focused update says that Google is taking a slower development route, possibly to minimise fragmentation as device manufacturers play catch-up. If that is, in fact, what's going on, then the move, as unexciting as it is, might be better for all Android users in the long run.