We knew from the get go that without the move to version 5.X, Android 4.1 'Jelly Bean' wasn't going to introduce any ground-breaking new functionality, however, Google has done an impressive job in improving the everyday usefulness of an Android device, almost to the extent that you might consider some new elements to be fairly major improvements, allow us explain.
First up is Google's 'Project Butter'. This little miracle worker ensures that the Android UI runs at a silky smooth 60fps through a forced 16ms vsync and triple buffering. Likewise, touch control is also synchronised at this point, ensuring consistent performance and enabling Android to efficiently provide predicted finger locations in between actual touch samples. All this amounts to something pretty impressive, which Google made sure to point out in a comparison against the already speedy Android 4.0 ICS, using a camera capturing at 300fps and running in slow motion.
Next up is 'Google Now'. The firm was the first to introduce the slide-down status bar and now it's the first to introduce a slide-up bar that attempts to predict what kind of information may be most relevant to you at a particular moment and place in time and offer it up at the swipe of a finger. Google Now will look at your location, search history, calendar, favourite sports team and so on and parse information into 'cards' which can be remembered and prioritised; there's also the option for manual control. Some of the default card templates provide data for the weather, public transport, sports, places, traffic, flights, translation, currency, time back home and so on. As a quick example, if you're standing at a bus stop, expect Google Now to offer you a timetable and, if you have an appointment to be somewhere, directions along with it.
Adding depth to the new feature, Google Now is backed by voice search/commands to quickly pull-up and refresh cards or generate new ones from contextual siri-like search results, powered by Google Knowledge Graph, adding some powerful flexibility to the speedy system. Just to ice-off matters, Google Now can also be reached from the Android unlock ring to offer even quicker access.
Looking to improve the rate at which we can insert information into a phone, Google has added support for offline voice input, with the interpreter sitting on the device and, the firm has introduced a new keyboard, which is capable of predicting words, before we've even typed them!
Other minor improvements involve an enhanced camera app, that provides quicker access to photos. Android Beam is now capable of exchanging video and pair with NFC-enabled Bluetooth devices. The Notifications tab has been bolstered with more functionality, allowing users to return a call and view multiple e-mails without having to enter an application.
In this article, we're just skimming the user-end surface, with fine tweaks present throughout the entire OS; the Android SDK has received a myriad of enhancements too, for example, it's now possible to probe for available hardware and software codecs and use Google Cloud Messaging service to push updates to apps. Even Google Play has been improved to only transmit altered data when updating an APK, decreasing the required time and bandwidth for an update significantly in some situations.
It would perhaps take a small book to list all of the interesting new features in Android 4.1 and so, we highly recommend users visit the official Android 4.1 page when it launches, for a more in-depth overview. Oh, and for owners of Google branded devices, expect an update mid-July, for everyone else, expect a statement from manufacturers sometime thereafter as they place their hands on the new SDK for evaluation.