This week at Google I/O 2012, Jelly Bean was unveiled , the latest installment of their popular Android operating system. Some people were hoping for Android 5.0 but instead this is a one decimal point jump up from where Ice Cream Sandwich placed us around half a year ago.
Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) introduces a lot of little changes to how things work on Android devices. For the most part it's still the Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) we already know and love but just a little more refined around the edges. The overall operating system is now smoother and more responsive, targeting 60fps performance throughout the UI and increased efficiency. Some older devices might struggle with this but more modern devices already running Ice Cream Sandwich will generally see noticeable improvement under the hood. All those little pauses which some users might not even notice seem to vanish now making the experience that much better. Even if you didn’t notice those micro-pauses before, you’ll notice once they’re gone.
Offline maps are here now which is pretty much what it sounds like. You now can use maps without having a live connection to the internet. This isn’t a first in the tech world but a nice addition, and certainly new for Android users. No real surprises in this feature though. It's still the maps you’ve already been using, just with offline support. Users need to specifically opt to make a selected area available offline when viewing maps to have Jelly Bean download the data, which is far from the automation we might hope for but it's a start and at least handy for navigating areas you frequent or expect to visit.
One of the changes I particularly like is the new predictive keyboard. It's a little thing but the sort of thing that you can get used to relying on, fast. Just start typing and their algorithms attempt to predict what you’re writing as you go. What's more, it's a learning algorithm so it keeps track of your typing habits, to improve over time.
Google Now is the big addition to Android that most users will take notice of. Think of it as Google’s answer to Siri. Users hold down the home button and swipe upwards to activate it. The user is presented with a nice little dashboard full of pertinent information. This dash is informed by learning from your behavior and predicting what you’ll want before you have to go looking for it. Think of it as your own personal Radar O’Reilly. Like Siri it has it's own voice which you can ask questions and interact with. Along with this comes improved Google Voice support including offline voice dictation (finally) which works admirably.
There are a lot of other little differences you’ll notice, like improved home-screen organization, new language support, accessibility improvements, a better camera app and interactive notifications to name a few.
This gives us a good glimpse into Google’s ideal. It just lets you be you, use your devices how you want to, and it learns from you as you go, tailoring the experience to better suit you to be as natural an effortless as possible. Expect over the air (OTA) updates to start pushing out mid-July with initial devices receiving this OS being the Morotola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Nexus,
and Nexus S.
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