In late July, Google introduced a few consumer devices on an updated version of Android—Version 4.3 (code-name Jelly Bean, just like the two versions before it). Though there are no cosmetic changes to the OS, Google has added a few under-the-hood features, the most notable of which are Restricted Profiles, Bluetooth 4.0, OpenGL ES 3.0 and DRM APIs.
Android 4.2 introduced multi-user support, which lets you add up to eight user logins with customized experiences for each. Android 4.3 builds on this by adding Restricted Profiles to curate the apps that each user has access to. (For example, the kids can’t access settings or apps they shouldn’t be using.)
Bluetooth Smart Technology (Version 4.0)
The latest version of Bluetooth isn’t any faster than its predecessor, but it uses less power. Bluetooth SIG claims that “New Bluetooth Smart devices can run on a tiny battery for up to a year.” There are many devices with it, such as the pedometer FitBit which uses Bluetooth 4.0 to relay to your smartphone how many steps you’ve taken in realtime.
Many Android smartphones already have Bluetooth 4.0 radios, though they’re not activated. Updating these smartphones to Android 4.3 will activate the latest Bluetooth 4.0 technology.
OpenGL ES 3.0
This is a library of tools that developers can tap into to make console quality graphics for games and apps. Hugo Barra, vice president of Android product management, demoed an app created by the game studio Unity, built with OpenGL ES 3.0. According to Barra, noteworthy enhancements include:
- Faces with shadows. A complex 3D model that can cast complex 3D shadows.
- New texture compression format. “Increases the amount of detail that can be shown on texutured surfaces and objects,” he says. You can see stubble and different skin texture for a new level of realism.
- Animorphic lens flare. Horizontal lens flare from movies shot with Animorphic camera lenses for a “J.J. Abrams–style lens flare.”
Unity OpenGL ES 3.0 demo
If your smartphone has an advanced GPU, such as Qualcomm Adreno 3–series, you’ll be able to run OpenGL ES 3.0 games and apps once you’re running Android 4.3. (If you have a current-generation Nexus 7, Nexus 4 or Nexus 10 with Android 4.3 installed, you can watch the demo with this app.)
Despite having high-defintion displays, a lot of video content available on smartphones and tablets is played only in standard definition, which Barra claimed was due to DRM restrictions. In Android 4.3 they’ve added new DRM security, which streams protected high-def content. The first to take advantage of this added security is Netflix. Their previous app could stream videos in HD 720p, but the new update now offers Full HD 1080p when running on Android 4.3 devices.
Android 4.3 adds a bunch of smaller enhancements, too. You can find the full list here.