So Google pulled the wrapper off of its new flavor of Android, version 4.1 Jelly Bean, at its Google I/O 2012 conference. It sure looks sweet, but the question is, how useful will it really be?
According to Google, Jelly Bean is built to harness the power of mobile processors better in order to, as the company puts it, "improve CPU utilization." That makes sense since today's CPUs more often than not are dual-core chips, and quad-core CPUs are right around the corner -- at least in the U.S. As part of the I/O 2012 demo, a Samsung Galaxy Nexus running (Android 4.0) was pitted against the same model phone using Jelly Bean.
Google crowed about how much more smoothly the Jelly Bean device scrolled through menu screens and rendered animations, calling the improved speed and slicker graphics silky and smooth. In fact it's all called Project Butter. I for one welcome any way to make Android run buttery smooth since that's a criticism Apple fans hurl in my direction often. Google also said that Jelly Bean devices will enhance battery life performance, which always puts a smile on my face.
Taking a page perhaps from some its hardware partners, most notably Samsung and its Live Panel within TouchWiz, Jelly Bean will feature widgets that you can control the size of yourself. Widgets will also alter their size to fit around other widgets already placed on your phone's home screen. This is a feature I'd be happy to have since one of the most frustrating notifications to receive in Android is that there's no more room on a given screen to drop your widget down upon.
Easier photo sharing
Ice Cream Sandwich brought new camera capabilities to Android phones such as burst mode and snapping pictures while shooting video, which handset makers such as Samsung and HTC have certainly exploited. Now with Jelly Bean, Google will add a Filmstrip view for faster photo navigation. You can also crop photos for sharing, and swipe away images you can't stand with a quick finger motion to delete. It sounds good to me since I'd much rather perform minor edits on my phone than have to muck around with images on a full laptop system.
Better predictive keyboard
First let me say I actually like the stock Android keyboard, ever since Gingerbread. I've always appreciated how word suggestions are placed on top of the virtual keys and aren't forced on me through an autocorrect function. Google says though that it's made improvements to Jelly Bean's internal dictionary in an effort to be provide more accurate word-completion options.
Here's one of Jelly Bean's slickest improvements, something Google calls Voice Typing. Essentially you'll be able to dictate whole paragraphs to your Jelly Bean phone and it will dutifully jot down what you say, even punctuation marks. Now that's a smartphone function that could really come in handy -- if it works as advertised. Even better, Jelly Bean will place the tools needed to perform Voice Typing locally, so you'll be able to dictate offline and without a network connection.
With Voice Search it's clear Google is gunning for Apple's Siri in a big way. Google has had what it called Voice Actions for years, but Voice Search looks to be much more robust. While Voice Actions will launch some apps and initiate texts, e-mails, and Web searches, Voice Search seems to be intended to behave like a personal assistant, providing complete results in one central location.
Notifications is one of the new buzz words in OS design. Android was a real pioneer here, placing system alerts front and center in its notification bar in a pull-down window shade running along the top of the screen. Playing catch-up, Apple's iOS 6 has taken steps to beef up its notifications too. Jelly Bean though will push things further, supporting notifications that will allow complex actions and more ways to interact with alerts. For example, you'll be able to tap a missed call message and have the option to ring the caller back. Developers will also have the flexibility to craft custom notifications for their apps. Hopefully all the tweaks won't add additional complexity to an already highly configurable operating system.
OK, here's a feature that honestly scares me. Google Now will lean heavily on Google searches you've conducted in the past to learn your likes to better anticipate your wishes. It will also use real-time location data provided by your handset to make more targeted suggestions. For instance, if you're searching for a nearby restaurant, Google Now will understand that you often look up places to grab a nice bowl of ramen, and will ply you with local noodle spots. It'll even deduce your favorite sports team and provide times for the next home game just in case you have the hankering for a ticket.
Google Play refreshed
Google has revamped its Google Play entertainment store as well. Now you'll be able to find TV episodes to complement its selection of movie and music titles. Additionally, no doubt in an effort to beef up what the new Nexus 7 tablet can do, Play will also feature magazines for download. Publishing partners include Hearst and Conde Nast, and you can buy single issues or subscriptions. It could catch on, but I'd rather sync before I walk out of the door and get my reading material for free.
Editors' note: We'll have more analysis of Jelly Bean over the next few days.