Well that’s it folks, Google has officially unveiled its latest Android operating system, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. There are a ton of new features in it, some are targeted at developers and others will be immediately noticeable to consumers. Let’s go over the top five features of the latest build.
1. Improved Google Search
Google’s Search in Jelly Bean is insanely awesome and was rebuilt from the ground up. In fact, its feature set pretty much makes it a direct competitor to Apple’s Siri voice engine. Want to know the weather? Ask your Jelly Bean device. How tall is Mount Everest? Ask Jelly Bean. It’s even detailed, much like Siri in iOS6, with cards for each reply that provide a picture and an answer of the question you asked. So, for example, if you asked who the president of the United States is, Google Search would return a card stating “Barack Obama” with a picture of President Obama. It doesn’t seem to get into the nitty gritty details that Siri offers, however. Google didn’t mention whether or not you can use Google Search to create appointments or reminders and we doubt that’s a feature. Still, it’s a vast improvement over what Google offered in Ice Cream Sandwich.
2. Better Keyboard
Google improved the keyboard in Jelly Bean with predictive text input — that means the OS starts thinking about what you’re going to type next before you even type it. We’ve seen this available on third-party keyboards already, but it’s definitely great to see that Google is making it available in its stock keyboard. Also, Google improved its Voice Typing experience by taking it offline. That means you won’t need a data connection in order to create a message using voice-to-text technology. It’s currently only supported in U.S. English but Google says that additional language support will come soon.
3. Google Now
Google Now is a brand new feature in Jelly Bean that makes Android devices much smarter. It can automatically provide you with real-time alerts for your favorite sports teams or upcoming flights, complete with a Siri-like card interface that provides a full scoreboard or your flight check-in information. It already knows your favorite sports teams, too, if you’ve searched for them in Google. A bit creepy, but neat. Additionally, if you commute the same route daily, Google Now can alert you of traffic before you leave and provide a better route ahead of time based on current traffic conditions. It also provides real-time public transit information, updates on appointments and information about nearby places.
4. Enhanced User Interface
Google tweaked the UI in a number of ways. First, thanks to Project Butter, everything happens faster than before. That means the menus will open and close quicker and applications should launch faster. You can also now drag a widget to any homescreen — even if it’s crowded — and automatically drop it in. The widget will resize to fit the available space as appropriate. Overall, though, Jelly Bean looks much like Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and that’s why it probably has the Android 4.1 moniker instead of Android 5.0.
5. Better, Expandable Notifications
Notifications are amazing in Jelly Bean. You can now pull down the shade and expand on any notification you have. So if, for example, you have a missed call, you can quickly call back by tapping a button right inside the notification itself. If a friend checks-in on FourSquare, you can comment or like the check-in right from the notification shade. If you have a new email, you can view a quick snapshot of the contents of that email and then jump right into it and respond. Additionally, notifications can be expanded to show more content from an application. The Pulse application, for example, can be pulled down from the notification shade with a two-finger swipe gesture and will reveal additional news stories. This is super, super exciting and we can’t wait to play with it.
There’s a lot more to talk about with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. It also supports enhanced Android Beam, faster photo gallery viewing options from within the revamped camera application and new accessibility options for blind users thanks to new gestures and voice input. We can’t wait to use it when it hits the Nexus S, Galaxy Nexus and Motorola XOOM in mid-July. The developer SDK is available now. We’re also reaching out to major manufacturers for updates on when you can expect Android 4.1 on your device.