Late last month, Google officially unveiled its latest mobile operating system–Android 4.1, dubbed “Jelly Bean.” While the minor change in the version number (from 4 to 4.1) might suggest this isn’t much of an update, and especially not as significant as Android’s step from 2.3 Gingerbread to 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, it does indeed offer a number of compelling new features.
Here’s why you should care.
Android 4.1 is smarter and cleaner than any other iteration of Google’s mobile operating system. Aside from a much faster interface (thanks to Google’s “Project Butter”), the OS offers several amazing features.
First, Jelly Bean offers a totally revamped Google Search app that can easily go toe-to-toe with Apple’s Siri voice engine. In fact, I’ve found in my own tests that it provides more accurate results in a faster timeframe than Apple’s enhanced Siri engine, which will be introduced in iOS 6 this fall. I’m easily able to search for sports scores, create calendar appointments, search for how tall the Empire State building is, and much more. Just like Siri, the results are provided in a clean card-based user interface.
A new Google Now option will automatically take all of my calendar appointments and tell me when to leave for my scheduled appointment depending on how much traffic there is. If I’m flying to visit our New York team, Google Now can alert me that my flight is delayed or of any gate changes. Those are just two small examples of how powerful the operating system has become and how tightly it can integrate into our lives.
Android used to tell me I had a missed call, but that information isn’t very useful if I can’t do anything directly from the notification itself. Now, with Android 4.1, notifications can be expanded. I can see a preview of any new email, for example, and quickly send a text or place a phone call to any missed calls. If I’m alerted that I was tagged in a Facebook photo, I can easily like or comment on the alert, directly from the drop-down notification shade. There’s a whole new two-finger gesture-based user interface that makes notifications more useful than ever before.
Android 4.1 has its faults, of course. For starters, we know that only the Galaxy Nexus and the Nexus S will get the upgrade. It will take time for carriers — both domestic and international — to test builds and prepare to support the upgrade. That means brand new flagship phones such as Samsung’s Galaxy S III and the HTC One X likely won’t be updated for several months. Worse, unless you buy a Galaxy Nexus, you can’t buy a brand new phone with Android 4.1 already installed. The same applies for tablets: the Nexus 7 is currently the only tablet on the market with the latest operating system.
Carriers and manufacturers haven’t been quick to upgrade in the past, either, so don’t hold your breath for a release anytime soon. In fact, according to Google’s latest figures, just over 10-percent of all Android users currently run Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which was released last year.
Patience is key if you’re a fan of Android. Thankfully, Android 4.1 will be well worth the wait. That is, unless Apple’s iPhone 5 and iOS 6 steal the thunder this fall.