At the end of June, Google issued a new version of its Android operating system, sweetly nicknaming version 4.1 “Jelly Bean.” Just this week, our friends in Mountain View made the open source code available for manufacturers to implement. After checking it out, there are some new, standout features that set Android 4.1 apart from its predecessors.
At a glance, Jelly Bean looks nearly identical to the previous version of Android 4.0, a.k.a. “Ice Cream Sandwich.” Google’s goal with Jelly Bean was to make the OS faster and smoother. To do this, it created an initiative called “Project Butter, designed to make animations smooth and uninterrupted, as well as create smoother responses to touchscreen gestures. The team seems to have pulled it off, as seen in this slow-motion video of side-by-side smartphones running 4.0 and 4.1.
Voice search has also been beefed up with Jelly Bean and renamed “Google Now.” This new voice search allows you to use more natural language to ask your Android phone questions, as well as to issue commands. You can ask Google Now to play a song or ask questions about the weather—it’s basically Google’s answer Apple’s voice search, “Siri.” The folks at Android Police put Google Now through the paces and found it was able to correctly answer 47 consecutive questions and commands.
The pull-down notification draw has been a staple of Android since its debut on the T-Mobile G1. The draw offers a quick list of all your notifications from apps running in the background (new text messages, emails, music, etc.). Jelly Bean enhances the notification draw by allowing you to take action on your notifications. The notifications can expand and offer you quick tasks without having to open the app. For example, Google lists examples like a “snooze” or “email guests” action if you receive a meeting notification. An API is available for developers so 3rd party apps can offer action buttons in the notification bar.
If and when your Android smartphone will receive an update to Jelly Bean is anyone’s guess. Android 4.0 was released almost a year ago in October of 2011, but as of July 2nd 2012, just 10.9% of Android devices had a variant of 4.0 installed. There’s no new feature in 4.1 that will likely make this version roll out to devices any faster.