Google had a lot to say about Jelly Bean, the next big update to Android expected to roll out sometime in the coming months. In addition to Project Butter, there are a number of changes coming to the platform with Jelly Bean.
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, while being a relatively minor update compared to Ice Cream Sandwich, introduces a variety of new features including: VSync, a Siri-like Google Now experience, extended accessibility, camera app, search UI, and more.
Project Butter is Google’s answer to perhaps its most talked-about drawbacks: fluidity of the user experience. With so many different hardware variations, it’s difficult for Android to be optimized for each and every device on the market. This is one reason Android is so fragmented in its current state. By adding features such as VSync and improving the general fluidity of the platform, Google is solving one of its most obvious problems from the perspective of the average consumer.
A jerkiness or stutter is a common sight on some devices, and Android has been improving this responsiveness little by little as each Android release is made available to the public. I’m presently using a Sony Tablet S with Android 4.0 and while much of the stutter of previous Android versions is mitigated, there are still a few moments where the frame rate drops and things get a little rough around the edges. Project Butter is intended to solve this, and by the looks of the demo it does so quite well.
Google has also improved how the phone deals with multiple cores, and how these cores receive power. If the phone isn’t in use, the processor doesn’t require as much juice. In addition, you can visualize how the device is handling rendering.
Improved Camera App
Improvements made to the camera app, which had been improved considerably in ICS, are nothing short of intuitive. Images taken moments before can be quickly scrolled to by swiping your screen to the right, shared, and posted on various social networks. With a pinch, you can go from rapid-fire photography to a film strip mode that allows you to select the photo you want to share and send it out to the world.
Fans of Siri on iOS will have a tough time celebrating its superiority when Google Now finds its way to the public. A surprisingly human voice answers your questions with remarkable accuracy, and you don’t have to be glued to the screen to understand them. While Siri still spits Wolfram Alpha results at you with a “here you go,” Google Now actually tells you what you want to know and gives you the data you need to find out more.
Google Now also integrates bus times, flight information, and other day-to-day needs right into the OS. Just being near the bus stop is enough to trigger it to give you the arrival times of various buses, and help you plan your travel route on the go. It even predicts your normal commute and offers suggested alternative routes should traffic be heavy. In the demo, this appeared to be quite impressive.
Search results offered by Google Now are based on your previous search history. This means Google takes what it knows about you and your general interests and attempts to match your search results to meet those needs. If you’re hyper concerned about privacy, this could be an unsettling feature of the service. Let’s face it though, Google has been tracking and matching its results to your historical data for years. With Google Now, it’s taking what it learns about you during the day and adding that to the algorithm, as well.
Near Field Communication (NFC) has recently come into its own in the mobile market with Microsoft and Google announcing boosted support for the platform. In Jelly Bean, on-device NFC will enable you to pair Bluetooth devices by simply tapping your phone to them. You can also share video files via NFC, making the trip to the nearest computer or an upload to the cloud a need of the past. Sharing videos you took at an event could feasibly be as easy as tapping the phones together and initiating the data transfer.
Google is calling this feature Android Beam.
Notifications are a difficult nut to crack. Either they don’t provide enough information about whatever it is you’re being notified about, too little information is provided, or these notifications are just plain unwanted and annoying.
Jelly Bean comes with some updates to how users are notified. Now, you can not only define app-specific notification settings, but you can respond to notifications from within the notification app, avoiding the confusion of switching from app to app simply to answer various requests.
The interface has also been improved to be slightly more intuitive. Either thanks to Project Butter or some other initiative, the demo offered at Google I/O hinted at a much smoother and zippier notification experience. That’s a good thing for anyone involved.
Accessibility is another one of those tall orders in the world of mobile. Making an Android device accessible to someone that is blind, for example, is a real challenge. In Jelly Bean, support for external Braille devices has been added. This is a very good thing, especially for the visually impaired community that has been left out of the smartphone and tablet world because of touch screens that provide no tactile feedback and poor support for text-to-speech.
Text input is remarkably different on Jelly Bean. Imagine being in a situation where you need to dictate some information, but you can’t get a connection to the Web. Most of the speech recognition software is rendered useless in these situations.
With Jelly Bean, you can still dictate to your phone and have it interpret that speech into surprisingly accurate text, even in airplane mode. This is a very good thing, and it could arguably be one of the smartest safety measures Google could have added to Android. When speech-to-text goes wrong on the road, so many drivers are inclined to pick up their device and start ticking away on it, leaving lives at risk. In a sense, Google has idiot-proofed this feature with Jelly Bean.
I’m personally excited to see what’s ahead for Android. Jelly Bean appears to be an answer to so many complaints coming from the smartphone world. Optimization, productivity, and even accessibility have been vastly improved in 4.1.
Whether or not these improvements will convince current iOS users to switch is a story that’s yet to be told. For now, Android fans can rejoice that Google has added a lot of the feature they’ve been asking for since Android originally launched.