It’s been a busy month for mobile operating systems. This month, we’ve already seen announcements of iOS 6 from Apple and Windows Phone 8 from Microsoft – and this week it was Google’s turn to announce their latest operating system.
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is Google’s follow-up to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. It comes with a range of new features such as the ‘Google Now’ personal assistant, improved voice and text input and easier one-tap sharing of multimedia. There are also a range of performance improvements that Google claims will make your device feel “buttery smooth”.
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean will be released in mid-July. It’ll initially be made available to owners of the Galaxy Nexus as an over-the-air update (you can update yours by going to Settings > About phone > System updates) with other Android smartphones likely to see updates in the coming months. Whilst updates have yet to be confirmed for any other device, it is widely expected that flagship devices such as the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III should promptly see updates to ‘Jelly Bean’.
In this article, we look at what’s new in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and ask whether it’s worth the upgrade.
Improved Keyboard & Voice Recognition
For power users, one of the key benefits of Android has been the ability to customise your device down to every last detail including the on-screen keyboard that you use to enter text throughout the entire device. This has spawned off an entire industry of alternative keyboard developed by companies such as Swype and SwiftKey. It’s clear that with Android 4.1, Google are aiming to incorporate some of the best features from these alternative keyboards into their own default Android keyboard.
The updated keyboard in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is able to analyse how you write and can predict what word you’ll type next before you even start typing it. It can be a huge time saver, though sometimes slightly spooky when your phone appears to be “reading your mind”. If you’re yet to get an upgrade to ‘Jelly Bean’ on your handset, the SwiftKey keyboard can provide you with a similar experience on your current Android.
Voice Recognition: Now Works Offline
Voice input is another feature that has seen an update in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Android has featured built-in speech recognition capabilities since version 2.1 (Éclair). However, just like with voice recognition on Apple’s iOS, Android has so far relied on cloud services for recognition. These cloud-based services work in that an audio recording of what you say is uploaded to Google’s servers, which will then respond with a text transcription. This is problematic when you don’t have access to a 3G connection and there are some privacy implications too - everything that you say is sent to Google.
In Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, voice recognition technology has now been designed to work offline without the cloud. It is no longer necessary to go online for voice recognition which means faster recognition even when you don’t have 3G or wi-fi access. There should also be fewer privacy implications as all recognition is performed locally on your own device.
‘Google Now’ virtual assistant
Personal assistant applications such as Apple’s Siri and Samsung’s S Voice have become popular over the last year. With Android 4.1, Google are introducing the ‘Google Now’ virtual assistant. Google Now operates in much the same way as Siri and S Voice: for example you can ask it to find information online, you can locate local businesses and restaurants and you can create calendar appointments and set alarm reminders.
As well as a voice-controlled virtual assistant, ‘Now’ also learns about your daily routine and monitors what you’re searching for in order to provide you with contextually-relevant information. Examples include navigation directions when you have an upcoming calendar appointment, bus and train times when you’re in the proximity of a station, sports scores for your local team and status updates for your upcoming flights. According to Google, it automatically determines information such as your favourite sports team from your search history, hence there’s no need to configure Google Now.
For ‘Google Now’ to work fully, you’ll need to have GPS technology enabled on your handset and web history and search history enabled on your Google account.
File Sharing with Android Beam
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich introduced Android Beam – a way of sharing contact information, webpage links and apps between two Android handsets with NFC (Near Field Communication) technology. In Jelly Bean, Google have enhanced Android Beam by adding the ability to share files such as photos and videos between two handsets simply by touching them together.
When two Android Beam handsets are tapped together, NFC technology is used to create a peer-to-peer Bluetooth connection between them. This Bluetooth connection is used to transmit the file. Recent handsets such as the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III support Bluetooth 4.0 which should offer file transfer speeds of up to 25Mbit/s (3 megabytes per second).
Note that if you have a Samsung Galaxy S III, the S Beam functionality on it works in a slightly different way. Whilst S Beam also uses NFC to create a connection between two handsets, files are instead transferred using Wi-Fi Direct technology. Wi-Fi Direct technology offers much higher transfer speeds (up to 250Mbit/s as opposed to 25Mbit/s on Bluetooth). However, the limitation is that S Beam only allows file sharing between two Galaxy S III devices – you cannot share files with other Android devices.
Other Improvements in Android 4.1
With Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, Google have implemented a range of improvements such as an improved keyboard and more responsive voice recognition software. There are also enhancements such as an intelligent virtual assistant that learns from your browsing history and the ability to share files between two handsets simply by tapping them against each other.
Were you impressed by Android 4.1 Jelly Bean or were you hoping for more from Google? How do you think Android 4.1 compares to iOS 6 and Windows Phone 8? Which is your favourite mobile operating system? Which feature are you most looking forward to from Jelly Bean, or are you more than happy with Ice Cream Sandwich? We’d love to hear your thoughts… please drop us a comment below and let us know what you think!
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