Life With Jelly Bean (Android 4.1)

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
My Galaxy Nexus was recently upgraded with Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) and I've been using it for just under a week now. While the previous version of Android (Ice Cream Sandwich) was a major overhaul of the operating system as a whole, JellyBean offers a host of refinements to the Holo aesthetic.

The intention of this post isn't to review JellyBean in its entirety. Rather, I'm going to call out a few of my favorite improvements and how they have benefited my overall user-experience thus far.

Something that has been called out as one of major improvements in JellyBean is Project Butter. While Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) could be somewhat unresponsive to touch at times, in JellyBean this problem has largely been solved. Quite honestly I didn't even realize until I compared ICS and JellyBean side by side just how big a difference this feature makes.

More responsive touch coupled with nicer transitions between applications and homescreens really creates the impression of a more fluid user-interface.  Since one of the long-standing complaints against Android has been this lack of consistent response/load time, it's absolutely terrific to see the issue addressed and solved in such a gorgeous way.

Another feature that I've really enjoyed using so far is Google Now. Now is a complete reimagining of search for Android. It uses voice and text as inputs before returning "cards" as outputs which contain information that can by anything from a compressed version of Google's knowledge graph, navigational directions, local places, weather, etc. If Now can't figure out exactly what you want, traditional Google search results are also featured at the bottom of every query.

Here's an example in action:
  • I open Google Now by holding down my phone's home key.
  • I say the word "Google" and the application now realizes I want to prompt it verbally with a audible question.
  • The microphone automatically turns on and waits for me to ask a question
  • In this case I'll ask "Who is the University of Washington mascot?"
  • Google Now processes this query, and then audibly speaks aloud "Harry the Husky"
  • In addition to speaking back the mascot's name, I'm also provided with a "card" that contains more information about UW, and several search results pertaining to Harry.
Pretty slick stuff! While people cannot seem to resist the Siri comparison, I'm looking forward to seeing lots of improvements to Now in the weeks and months to come.

A final feature I'll touch upon is the improved download speed of application updates. Previously, every time one of my applications needed an update, the entire .apk file had to be downloaded over-the-air. This was cumbersome and especially annoying for larger applications which update frequently (Facebook). Now however, updates download only the portion of the application that has changed. In most cases Google claims this reduces the download size between one and two-thirds.

Overall, I've found JellyBean to be both faster and smoother than its predecessors. I've also found that it gives me the information I'm looking for far quicker than ICS ever was able to. I'd like to extend a huge +1 to the Android team for constantly blowing me away with their rapid iterations.

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A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.