Google has officially announced the latest version of the Android operating system at their annual I/O conference last night. There are many new features in Jelly Bean, of which I will highlight the most important ones:
Google aims to make the entire UI experience of android flow better and smoother than it currently does. iPhone users often point out to us how smooth their transition animations are, and to be honest it really does make a big difference. A smoother experience in the UI just makes the entire phone seem to work better and well rounded. With Jelly Bean, Android now has "triple buffered graphics" which ensures more consistent frame rates and results in a much smoother user experience. To prove this Google used a high speed camera, showcasing two devices next to each other, one with Jelly Bean and one with ICS on it. Jelly Bean also predicts where you will touch the screen next in order to make the UI smoother. The CPU is also immediately taken out of deep idle whenever user input is detected. Take a look at the video to see the clear improvement.
Android was the first mobile OS to have notifications, and even with iOS finally catching up with their own implementation, Android is still in the lead. With Jelly Bean a major upgrade has been made to the notification system. Developers will now be able to completely customize notifications for their apps, allowing users to interact quickly with the most used parts of an app through the notification. For example, you can now like or comment on a Foursquare notification without even having to enter the app. Gmail also has more detailed information in its notifications, allowing you to skim an email and decide whether it is important or if it can wait till later. With appointments you can email all the people involved with quick messages informing them that you will be late, or with a custom message if you so wish. You can also call someone back from a missed call notification and so forth. The possibilities are limited only by the imagination of the app developers.
Offline Voice Typing
Usually when you dictate sentences to your phone using voice input, the actual voice recognition is done by sending the data to Google servers and then waiting for them to send back the recognised text. Google has managed to shrink their voice recognition software and fit it into Jelly Bean, allowing you to use voice typing without requiring a data connection. This is something that I am very excited about, because with the slow Internet we sometimes face here in South Africa, voice typing has never been a viable input method for me. Hopefully this will change that fact.
Google has had voice search and voice actions on Android for a long time now, but the voice actions only responded to very specific input and the voice search was basically just a shortcut for a normal Google search. In Jelly Bean voice search has been massively improved to give a Siri-like experience. Google has been working on something they call a knowledge graph for a while now. The idea is that when you search something the search engine must recognise that what you are searching isn't just words, but objects. This allows them to give you much better search results. With their new voice search, this has been incorporated, allowing you to ask questions in natural language and have a result returned that is aware of what your question means and gives the correct answer. This has the potential to be much better than Siri, which is mostly a gimmick, and will hopefully be a really useful tool.
The idea about Google Now is to make your phone both location and situation aware, allowing it to give you relevant and helpfull information without you even having to ask for it. When you travel home from work, it will automatically check your usual route and look at live traffic information to see if there isn't a shorter one available. When you have an appointment and you are using public transport, it will calculate how long it will take you to walk to the closest bus stop and when the next bus will depart in order to let you know when you should leave if you want to be on time. It will also give you live updates to the score of your favourite team, without you having to even tell it which team is your favourite one. It will already know by looking at your search history. Google Now can also give you directions to the closest restaurant, and once you are there it will suggest meals for which that particular restaurant is known. If you search for a flight it will keep you up to date on when you have to be at which gate, and when the boarding time is and so forth.
Now I doubt this will work very well in South Africa currently, as most businesses aren't online yet, but it has great potential for the future as everything is moving online.
Take a look at the video to see the new voice search and Google Now in action.
There are also some other upgrades such as a new keyboard with better predictive text, a new camera app that makes it easier to review photos and better NFC features which makes it easier to connect with other NFC devices, including headsets etc. and also makes sharing videos and photos as easy as tapping your phones together.