At the start of Google I/O yesterday, Google showed off the changes coming to Android in 4.1 Jelly Bean. There are some important changes coming to the platform, which include major speed increases, keyboard updates, offline voice search, and Google Now.
The speed increases coming to Jelly Bean are part of Project Butter, an ongoing effort to cut down on some of the lag and hanging common to the Android platform. It does this by increasing CPU power the moment you interact with the touch screen, and then reducing it once idle to save battery power. Google showed off a test with a slow motion Red camera to really highlight the speed increases on the same hardware thanks to the optimisations in Jelly Bean.
Notifications have been updated, giving you more data and options from the notification bar. These new features work similarly to current HTC Sense UI options, with the ability to call people back from the notification, or go straight into composing an email for guests of an event. Android has always done notifications very well, and this next logical step will be a fantastic addition to the OS.
There are some other more minor core OS updates, such as automatically resizing widgets, easier ways to share pictures and video through social networks and NFC, and a smarter keyboard with better predictive capabilities. A lot of these functions are already available to folks with replacement home screens or the SwiftKey keyboard, in fact the Jelly Bean keyboard will have SwiftKey’s ability to guess your next word and let you use it with a tap of the space bar.
Accessibility for people with visual impairment has been improved, with more swipe gestures and better speech output to help blind people properly navigate the UI. There’s also now support for Braille input and output devices via Bluetooth or USB.
Even with a lot of these core changes, Google has found time to overhaul search and add new lifestyle app Google Now. There’s now offline voice search, which supposedly supports more natural speech, and search in general now taps into Knowledge Graphs a lot better to give you the best information possible about a subject.
Google Now is an all in one day planner app, which is location and time aware, showing you data relevant to your day automatically. The examples given are showing you weather when you get up, estimate commute times to work, reroute your car navigation based on traffic data, show public transport times, etc. It’s not clear exactly how these cards will pop up throughout the day, and there’s no word on how extensible the app will be – if so there’s plenty of room for it act like Locale or Llama and perform location aware actions and automation.
The first Jelly Bean device, the Nexus 7 tablet, was also officially unveiled last night. A 7” tablet from Asus running on a very capable Tegra 3, and starting from only $200 or £159 for 8 GB of storage. The price and power seems like a fantastic value proposition for people wanting to get into the tablet market, or even for app developers.