Decoding Google’s Jelly Bean update

Google well understands, more than ever, what it must do, in order to turn Android into a responsive phone & tablet operating system for laypeople, not just highly tech-savvy users. And instead of piling on more and more complicated features with Android 4.1, it is centered on basic simplicity and usability. Jelly Bean, as Android 4.1 is nicknamed, is not an update loaded with show-stopping features. One can definitely grasp that from the version number. Only the decimal has apparently changed in it. But then there is Google Now, a solid competitor to Siri announced sans a lot of fanfare by Apple.

The interesting aspect about Google Now isn’t really that it includes a computerized voice, which answers questions, but the fact that it automatically works by trying to figure out usage patterns. Well, it learns where you are, and then informs you about the weather. It also keeps in memory your work commute and cautions you about a traffic jam. If you are awaiting a train, it can tell you when the next one is arriving.

‘Made for masses’

The obvious importance of the automation should in no way be underestimated. Android’s biggest lure in the past was customization, but it was seen that too many users chose to ignore everything they could do with the device perhaps because they lacked inclination or time to learn. Google Now, if it actually delivers as promised, it could do wonders. (Though, it’s still a work in progress.)

A big part of newfound usability of Android is Google’s so-called ‘Project Butter’. Nearly four years after the first ever Android phone and a year after the first batch of tablets, Android sure matches Apple’s iOS in terms of smoothness. If Ice Cream Sandwich, the last major Android update, infused hardware acceleration, Jelly Bean happens to pick up on finger swipes almost immediately. It extends the smoothness factor across the user interface.

Taking on Apple

A phone or tablet perfectly responding to the touch was an aspect exclusive to the iPhone and Windows Phones. Project Butter, analysts believe, will make Android a strong competitor to the iPad. A phone running Jelly Bean starts scrolling immediately as compared to one running Ice Cream Sandwich that takes a few moments to detect your thumb swipes. Jelly Bean is also about the little but vital tweaks Google has made to help users figure out Android. For example, widgets are convenient to add in Android 4.1.

The master lists of apps/ widgets in Android 4.0 were collated into one single menu, so people oblivious to widgets previously might now actually notice. In Jelly Bean, Google is going to place media front-and-center. Also in new Jelly Bean devices, Google Chrome will be the default browser, starting with the Nexus 7 series.

All the Jelly Bean’s improvements, of course, won’t count for much if phone & tablet makers fail to update their devices in a quick and timely manner. In fact, the slow delivery of key updates has been a drawback of Android. Google has a plan in place to tackle this in form of a ‘platform development kit’ for hardware makers, so designed as to assist them get their devices up to optimum speed.