Google I/O 2012 has officially kicked off at the Moscone Center West in San Francisco, California. Without wasting any time, after a short keynote, the Google representatives presented Android’s latest dessert, Android 4.1, otherwise known as Jelly Bean (following the trend of alphabetically named desserts/treats). With only just over 2% of Android devices packing Ice Cream Sandwich, we have to wonder, right off the bat, why Google would announce yet another update. In truth, 4.1 is more of upgrade, as opposed to the major overhaul we saw last year with 4.0. As always, every iteration provides a smoother and faster UI experience, and Jelly Bean is no different. So what provides this increase in performance and smoothness, and what else will the new OS offer to the end user?
Smoothness and Performance
In regards to the optimised smoothness, the Android developers have tinkered with the vsync timing, ensuring a constant framerate during rendering, touch events, screen composition and display refresh. In addition to the timing adjustments, Android 4.1 also adds triple buffering to its graphics capabilities, allowing improved scrolling, paging and animations. Although these changes would seem a sufficient enough increase in the UI’s feel, it doesn’t stop there. The team have also set out to reduce touch latency, which is achieved by predicting where your finger will be at point of screen refresh. The process of optimisation has been defined under Project Butter, which needs no explanation.
To showcase this improvement in smoothness and performace, Google have taken it upon themselves to demonstrate via the aid of a high-speed camera. The results are excellent.
Notifications have always had a special place amongst Android users, with changes made for each of the major Android updates. The latest change sees the customisation of displaying larger notifications, which users can expand and collapse with a mere pinch. Additions to notifications also see the support for photos, customisable priorities, and multiple actions, which include response by email or call, for example.
Although the resizing of widgets was introduced in previous versions, Android 4.1 now offers automatic widget resize, depending on where it is dropped. The size of the widget is dependent on the remaining space on the home screen. Widgets can also expand when in use, displaying larger, richer graphics for ease of use.
Simplified Task Navigation
Navigation has never been an issue when using Android, but Google has seen the need to improve on the already smooth operation. App developers will now be able to make use of “Up” navigation without needing to manage the navigation callback at runtime. This might not seem like much, but makes life for developers much easier, as the system obtains the navigation tree from the manifest file.
Higher Resolution Contact Photos
Android 4.1 sees an increase in contact photos to 720x720px, although it may vary between devices. This makes for richer images while browsing through contacts and receiving calls.
If you’re wondering where you’ve heard of this before, you only have to think back to the launch of the Samsung Galaxy SIII in the form of S-Beam. This NFC-based technology allows users to instantly share information with a simple touch between NFC-enabled smartphones. Communication between the 2 devices is established via NFC, and once a transfer is triggered, hands over to Bluetooth.
Network Bandwidth Management
Bandwidth management is by no means a new feature for Android. The difference this time is that you can now monitor data usage across different networks, which also includes tethering and mobile hotspots. Apps can now also query whether a specific network is metered before a sizable download starts.
This feature allows hardware vendors to produce audio devices and docks the interface via USB. This functionality is also available via ADK to provide access to all developers.
Despite always seeing updates in previous versions, not a lot of mention has been given to the Android Browser on its own. The enhancements to the browser in Android 4.1 include:
- Improved HTML5 video performance and UI
- Better text input
- Updated HTML5 Media Capture specification
- Improved HTML5 and CSS3 animation
- Enhanced rendering speed and reduced memory usage for scrolling and zooming
Smart App Updates
If you’re anything like me, receiving update notifications for apps is always filled with the promise of new features. The only downside to updating apps is the data required to “redownload” the updated app. Google Play will soon offer Smart App updates, which will introduce a more efficient method of updated your smartphone. Google Play will only update/add the bits that have changes, as opposed to the entire APK. This will no doubt save quite a bit of data for all users. In turn, this also means faster download times and save a bit of battery life in the process. Google predicts that Smart App updates will be, on average, one third of the size to download.
Offline Voice Input
Android users will be familiar with the Voice input previously requiring data connection to enable its use. This update now allows the user to capture a message via the microphone without such restrictions. So, depending on what you require via the Voice input (searching the internet vs. creating a text, for example), you may still be able to use the feature while in airplane mode.
Camera App Improvements
The upgrade to the camera app was one of the highlighted features of ICS. This time around, however, the improvements aren’t as radical as in the previous version, but still worth noting. The Android Gallery has been better integrated, allowing the user to quickly view photos and swipe between them. Deleting images no longer requires a separate icon, using the same off-screen swipe as you would to remove a notification. For those who might accidentally remove photos while swiping, the addition of an “undo” button will put your mind at ease.
A new app to Jelly Bean is Google Now. In short, Google Now is a revamped search function found in previous versions (arguably not an entire new app). The app includes a new UI and improved synthesised voice. Similar to the Google+ app, users will be able to swipe through search results at their leisure, and also offers personalised results, based on previous search history and data collected from other forms of Google services. The app integrates with your calendar, GPS, and a host of other background apps in order to provide optimum results and updates. Google Now can be customised to provide you with timely reminders from your calendar, alerts on your flights, and even when the next bus will arrive while you’re waiting at the bus stop. If this isn’t enough, with the recently upgraded Google Maps Live Traffic, the app will let you know when you need to leave to be able to make your next appointment.
Although this isn’t a great talking point, support for international users is always a welcome addition. With Android smartphones available in all corners of the globe, language selection always plays an important role in the level of penetration in non-English markets. Android 4.1 now includes bi-directional text, which is of significant use to Arabic, Hebrew and a few other Asian locales. Additionally, the upgrade sees an inclusion of 27 international keymaps for downloaded keyboards.
Despite this being a small upgrade from ICS, there are still more than enough additions and optimisations to satisfy those wanting a reason to move on from ICS (depending on whether you progressed that far already). It’s also worth noting that a number of Google apps will also be receiving updates during the week, in conjunction with the update to Jelly Bean. The Android 4.1 will be available from mid-July, and will see its first market release with the Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S and Xoom. The SDK is available to developers from today.
For those familiar with previous Android Easter Eggs, I’m sure you were keen to find out what this latest release brings in that regard. Engadget has posted a YouTube clip to showcase the latest interactive Jelly Bean Easter Egg. For those you have not yet seen this, you can check it out now on your own Android smartphone.
You can find the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean wallpapers to download here.