Google has detailed the changes and improvements coming to the Android OS with the next update: 4.1 Jelly Bean. Jelly Bean is set to bring some key improvements to the ecosystem with a definite focus on eliminating the lag time and often jerky touch-response often found on Android devices. Of course other changes will be coming as well such as camera improvements, keyboard and voice tweaks, NFC data transfer, Notifications, Search and Google Now.
With Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) we saw a lot of focus on taking faster photos with Android. Jelly Bean hasn’t brought as many big changes in that department, but there will now be less lag time between taking a photo and the ability to view it. Similarly to Windows Phone, users can swipe across the camera display to bring up the last photos taken and continue swiping to move through them sequentially. This is a good move, although hardly revolutionary.
A curious addition is the added feature of easy deletion. Users can simply swipe upwards on the phone’s screen to delete a photo that has just been taken. It seems that Google realises how much its users like to present themselves as perfectly edited as possible, which is fair enough considering the social trend towards documenting our lives via social media services. Any accidentally deleted shots can be brought back via an undo option.
User Interface Tweaks and Project Butter
Google has unveiled what it’s calling “Project Butter”, a project designed to increase UI smoothness for Android and hopefully eliminate the causes behind complaints regarding “Android Lag” for its users. Project Butter will do this through a variety of ways, one of which will be by learning and predicting your finger movements before you even make them. This will reduce lag-time between input and action, leading to a more snappy response time.
Home Screens are more easily customisable now as well, with apps and Widgets enjoying a new system for rearrangement. Any widget that is too big to fit in a specific area will now automatically resize when dropped. Widgets can also be deleted from a Home Screen by simply ‘throwing them off the side’ of the screen.
Keyboard and Voice
The keyboard and voice improvements seem to be part of Project Butter. They are mostly based around predictive software. Not only does the new keyboard predict what word you are typing now, but which words you are likely to type next based on general statistics and by learning your own habits.
Voice typing no longer relies on a data connection to function. Google has managed to shrink the software to a point where it could be implemented as part of the kernel. That means that you can type by speaking wherever you are, regardless of an active internet connection. This will obviously initially only be available in US English, but will see rollouts for other languages soon.
Android Beam is Android’s name for its NFC data transfer system. Android Beam will allow users to send pics or videos by tapping phones together or pairing a phone with a Bluetooth device that has NFC support, once again just by tapping it with your phone. This is very cool and it’s what we’ve been waiting for since NFC was introduced by Google in 2010.
Notifications have seen some funky improvements. In Jelly Bean, notifications in the drop-down tray can now be expanded with a two-finger gesture. They also feature more information and interfacing options, such as the ability to return a missed call right from the notification. You can then hang up from that same notification bar if you wish.
Email notifications can be expanded to view more text and calendar notifications, such as meetings, can be extended so that the user can then email all participants immediately. Notifications is somewhere where Android has traditionally been the market leader and we can’t wait to try this new system out.
Google Now is essentially Android’s answer to Siri. It’s a digital assistant that can be talked to, can answer questions regarding nearby restaurants or travel routes. It not only does this through its own programming, or through the Google cloud, but also users your search history and learns from your actions. It’s a little freaky in a way, but it’s also pretty cool.
With the sheer number of complaints received by Apple regarding the shortcomings of Siri, Google is actually in with a chance with Google Now. If Google Now works as well as they say we should hopefully start seeing that “seamless” voice experience promised by Apple with the iPhone 4S. However, that’s a big “if”.
Search has been tied in heavily with Google Now. The engine has been redesigned “from the ground up” in order to provide a more intuitive and less website-dependant experience. For instance, asking about a celebrity or person of not will bring up a bio and picture of the person, rather than a list of web pages with that information. Asking about the weather will bring up today’s weather forecasts, rather than a list of sites that have the same information.
Finally, Jelly Bean will have support for the visually impaired. Apple has pretty much been the only choice for blind people for a long time now, with its much-loved and easy-to-used Accessibility options for those with poorly functioning eyesight. Google has now entered the game with its own touch-based UI options. No word yet on how well Google has done its job, but time is sure to tell.
All in All
All up Jelly Bean sounds pretty cool. It’s not a ground-breaking update and it hasn’t particularly wowed us. Google Now sounds great on paper, but we’ll reserve judgement until we actually get a chance to use it. Too often in the past have we gotten excited about this or that and found it to be substantially less than up to our expectations.
We’re a fan of the new search functions and the new Home Screen UI sounds good. The Notification updates are absolutely fantastic and we’re very eager to try out Android Beam. As for Project Butter we can only hope that Google isn’t exaggerating too much and that the Android experience really has been cured of many of its jerky problems.