Google formally introduces us to Jelly Bean: Tiny tweaks, smoother UX, and something to shame Siri

android jellybeanThis morning Google officially announced Android 4.1, Jelly Bean. The next dessert of choice will (slowly) start to take the reigns from Ice Cream Sandwich – which as we all know, could be a long process unless you’re lucky enough to be a Nexus owner. Not you? Well read on for the all the next OS iteration details that will eventually hit your phone.

Project Butter

project butterJelly Bean has its fair share of flash features, but it’s clear the incremental system upgrades were a primary focus for Google. Project Butter has been Android’s go and smoothing out some of the more boring but important kinks in the works. The result is a faster, more fluid, more responsive operating system. Project Butter managed to shave a few milliseconds off of the experience, working at 60fps. That sounds so insignificant, but in a side-by-side demo with Jelly Bean and Ice Cream Sandwich, you can really see the processing different. There’s also a new feature called Sys Trace which gives developers and manufacturers a clearer look at what is disrupting or slowing down service.

ice cream sandwich vs jelly bean

The small tweaks 

homescreen resizingA couple of other changes that won’t get you out of your chair but are still noteworthy include some homescreen and camera upgrades. The homescreen supports automatic widget resizing depending on a particular screen, and you can remove any with a simple swipe off the screen. The camera brings up photos for review more quickly and if you use a pinch gesture, it formats your recently capture images into a film strip so you can swipe through and view more than one at a time if you want.

Jelly Bean also adds offline support for voice typing, so dismal connections be damned — you can still dictate. Text input in general has been improved with more relevant and accurate dictionaries and keyboard predictions.

offline voice type

The big adjustments

Notifications have undergone a fairly significant makeover: in short, they are more customizable, more action-oriented, and more flexible. Android has always had impressive notification systems, and Jelly Beans is even better. You can take actions from nearly any type of update that has rolled in from the notification center (and you can configure this so there are multiple options, i.e. the ability to send messages like “busy,” “call soon,” or “what’s up?” to a missed call; or the options to comment and +1 a photo someone posted to Google+), they can include multimedia content, and you can collapse or expand them at will. Of course, you can tap to dismiss all of them to clean up that space immediately.

new jb notifications

Android’s also woven in some Knowledge Graph elements into Search for an all-around more immersive experience, and voice search is also faster and smarter. But the big search-related update is Google Now, Android’s answer to Siri which seriously shames S-Voice. Google Now – an opt-in feature – let’s your Jelly Bean enabled phone to read your calendar and search and location histories to figure out what you need and when.

The best way to talk about Google Now is in for instances. For instance: if you’ve enabled Google Now and you have a doctor’s appointment, Google Now will read your calendar and tell you when you need to leave according to the appointment time, whether you drive or take public transit, traffic times, bus times, etc — so with all this data, you’ll know the exact moment you need to get on your way.

The assistant tool will also be able to do things like recommend places of interest to you as you walk down a street, based on your search history. And at any given restaurant, it can tell you what the most popular item on the menu is. If you’re traveling internationally, you will have conversion rates and translation tools, and you’ll have loads of transportation and airport information.

Of course such a system isn’t without its potential faults. Google says that Google Now will be able to keep you up to date on all your favorite teams, and that you won’t have to tell the app what your favorite teams are because it will gather this based on your search history. Well just because I’ve searched something doesn’t mean I liked it – for instance if my team is in the finals against another, I’ll likely Google that other team for a week straight during the matchup. After that, I don’t really care, but Google Now could see my repetitive search history and assume otherwise. And this could obviously apply to other situations. Still, it sounds far more capable than Siri and a much more comprehensible attempt at the AI assistant.

The Jelly Bean SDK is available for developers starting today, and will roll out to the Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S, and Xoom starting in mid July. You can get a thorough look at everything new in Jelly Bean on the developer page