The new version of Google's Android operating system is called Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. It's faster, has a cleaner home screen, a new camera app, much better notifications, and what could be a killer app: Google Now. This is what's new in Jelly Bean:
Google Now is going to be a killer feature. It gives your Android phone complete awareness of your whereabouts and keeps you updated about any information you may need at any point during the day, depending on your location. It seems quite smart.
If you are on route in the subway, for example, it will tell you when the next train is coming. If you search for a flight, it will create a card that would be constantly updated with flight information like gate, delays, or boarding time. If you go to a restaurant, it will offer you recommendations on the menu. This seems similar to some of the things Siri does on iOS, but it looks more useful to me, as it seems to anticipate situations based on where you are.
The cards are clearly designed, with a good layout, images and typography.
This is great: when an app needs updating, it will not download the whole app. It will only download the parts of the app package that have changed. This is great for users, as the new apps will download faster and will use less bandwidth. In theory, this will help people to have all their apps updated at all time.
The new interface is ultra fast. The refresh rate is much higher than the previous version of the Android operating system, with a much better response time to your touch. Apparently, Google claims that their new software video architecture can save battery too by predicting where you are going to click next.
The entire Android interface—apps included—runs at 60 frames per second. Google ran a video on screen comparing Jelly Bean to Ice Cream Sandwich, the previous version of Android, and it makes the latter look like it is running in slow motion. We will have to try it, but it looks pretty impressive. In fact, Google is so excited about its smoothness that they call it Project Butter.
The home screen has been modified. It looks the same but it now helps the user to keep things organized. Now you can resize your widgets or move them around and everything on the screen will flow accordingly, keeping it all in order. In a way, the reordering is similar to Microsoft's Metro resizing on Windows Phone 8, without the tiling. Dismissing widgets is as easy as tossing them away.
There is a new offline voice typing engine, which will allow you to dictate text without the need of a connection to the internet. It will be launched only for US English at the beginning, but other languages will follow.
There's a new camera application that allows you to review your existing photos easily, even as you are taking a new one, without having to change into a review mode: just look at any previous photo by swiping with your finger the right, moving the active camera view out of the way. It's a cute feature, but I don't think it's too useful. I don't see myself looking at my previous photos while taking a new one.
Getting rid of an existing photo in this mode is also quite simple: swipe it up to toss it away. Cute again, and fast. The only problem I can see with this is that it doesn't ask you to confirm.
They have added images, live updates, and a lot more information, to notifications. They can also expand and collapse with a two finger gesture. Android was the first phone OS to introduce notifications and the new ones make Apple's look primitive now. They kind of remind me of Microsoft's live tiles.
The new search engine works like Siri, accepting questions in natural language and answering them. The voice sounds much better than Siri, however.
The result screen is pretty nice too: it gives you a card with the answer for your question but, with a swipe of your finger to the right, you will see full Google search results.
It will be available in mid-July, with an over the air update for Galaxy Nexus, Motorola Xoom, and Nexus S.