Oi, oi - it's all happening at I/O

Google reveal details of Android 4.1 'Jelly Bean' at I/O

In the midst of typical Google bravado and showmanship (with fawning journalists in tow) there were some pretty important strides made by the company in regards to their Java-powered smartphone platform, Android.

As expected, Google revealed more intricate details of their next version, Android 4.1, codenamed ‘Jelly Bean’, after last week’s spilling of the beans. Now it appears 4.1 is offering much more in terms of features, tightly packing many into the jar. Amongst the newbies are a much more responsive UI, instigated by “Project Butter” to make the Jelly Bean UI “buttery smooth” - in other words, make it easier for the user’s fingers. Slow scrolling is a massive bugbear with older Android versions and the fact that Google are putting most precedence on this, is very encouraging.

Also arriving is an enhanced interactive notification system, despite already being the pick of the crop on mobile operating systems. Notifications no longer are just texts, but now pictures, lists and so on, and can also add action buttons to do things like reply to an email without the need to open a separate app for it - nice. The new API makes it possible for Android developers to create richer notifications for apps, with some third-party apps already using it, such as Spotify and Foursquare, shown off during the Google I/O keynote.

Certainly the most interesting additions are better voice transcription (with offline voice) and Google Now - seemingly in direct competition to Apple’s Siri by providing the user what they need to know with the mere mention of a word. Google claim that Google can provide “today’s weather before you start your day, how much traffic to expect before you leave for work, or your favorite team's score as they’re playing. There’s no digging required: cards appear at the moment you need them most.”

So, basically it’s Google’s own Siri then. The offline voice aspect is a big deal: with voice recognition no longer requiring network I/O, it should make it all incredibly responsive. But, it makes you wonder why Siri doesn't already offer this - maybe Apple decided it wasn't worth pursuing.

In terms of other developer tidbits, memory limits now apply to widgets, which can be hosted in third party apps as well as working in both portrait and landscape orientations. Better NDK support is welcomed as it’s now possible to build and debug apps that have native components, rather than having to do it separately for Java, C++ etc. Google has also introduced anti-piracy measures, adding in application encryption to make sure developers get the right sales, and don’t get their work distributed illegally. All new APIs appear in the Android Support Library as standard, meaning developers can easily obtain them.

Aside from unveiling the contents of the Jelly Bean jar, Google were also keen to talk numbers:

This year, we’re picking up right where we left off. More than 400 million Android devices have now been activated—up from 100 million last June. And twelve new Android devices are activated every every second—that’s more than 1 million a day.

Staggering statistics for sure. Jelly Bean will build on top of previous version Ice Cream Sandwich, to be intrinsically linked with that version and to combat that age old fragmentation debate slightly. Jelly Bean will ship in mid-July, as predicted, to Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S, and Motorola Zoom devices, and a preview version of Android 4.1 is available now. It will also be built into Nexus 7 tablets.

Will Jelly Bean be a greater success than Android 4.0? Time will tell, but the signs show that Android isn’t showing any signs of letting up just yet.

Chris Mayer

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