Google announced the next version of Android, dubbed Jelly Bean, today, and it is jam-packed with new goodies for developers and consumers to play with. Google is rolling out the over-the-air Android 4.1 update in mid-July, and developers will get the software development kit Wednesday at Google I/O.
Google is trying to redefine what we think of push notifications on smartphones and change how apps are updated from the Google Play store. How do these new updates compare to iOS, Windows Phone and BlackBerry?
How Google describes it: Android 4.1 introduces improved App Widgets that can automatically resize, based on where the user drops them on the home screen, the size to which the user expands them, and the amount of room available on the home screen. New App Widget APIs let you take advantage of this to optimize your app widget content as the size of widgets changes.
A new feature in Android will be what look like responsive widgets. Users will be able to manage home screen space by dragging and dropping widgets, and all other widgets and icons on the screen will make space for them. Apple has not embraced widgets in iOS, and while Microsoft has created customizable "live tiles" for Windows Phone, they are still static boxes tied to a single homescreen. Android's widgets are now smarter and will be easier to integrate on an Android's variety of home screens.
Additions to Google Beam
How Google describes it: In Android 4.1, Android Beam makes it easier to share images, videos, or other payloads by leveraging Bluetooth for the data transfer. When the user triggers a transfer, Android Beam hands over from NFC to Bluetooth, making it really easy to manage the transfer of a file from one device to another.
Google continues to lead on NFC smartphone integration. With two new Beam features, Android Jelly Bean is way ahead of the competition when it comes to NFC. For instance, this is the first time we have seen NFC connect devices over a wireless connection with the ability to tap your phone to a Bluetooth device. Think about it. Instead of fumbling with your Bluetooth headset (perhaps while in the car?), you can just tap your phone to it and it would be paired. Speakers, keyboards… anything could be possible between NFC and Bluetooth.
New Google Voice Search
Google voice search… looks like Apple's Siri but could ultimately be more robust. Apple ties its search results to particular databases and search engines like Wolfram Alpha or Yelp. Google voice search in Android ties it to the company's robust search engine. Add responsive voice feedback and the new card-based interface, and mobile search is taking a step ahead.
New "Platform Developer Kit"
The "Platform Developer Kit" is a really smart move by Google considering its large manufacturer and partner base. You don't often think of hardware as something that can be "opened," but the ability to institute the very basic aspects of Android with one simple kit will make it much easier for hardware companies to start building on new versions of the platform.
Smart App Updates
How Google describes it: Smart app updates is a new feature of Google Play that introduces a better way of delivering app updates to devices. When developers publish an update, Google Play now delivers only the bits that have changed to devices, rather than the entire APK. This makes the updates much lighter-weight in most cases, so they are faster to download, save the device’s battery, and conserve bandwidth usage on users’ mobile data plan. On average, a smart app update is about 1/3 the size of a full APK update.
App encryption and smart app updates are a smart play by Google. With smart app updates, users only get the part of the app that is new, so they do not have to download the whole app again. That will help with people who have data limits on their smartphones, take a little pressure off the carriers, and make the process generally simpler for Google and developers. That is not something that other app stores do. Security companies will be able to analyze very specific parts of the apps but will need to update their Android security apps to deal with this new app update process.
Rich Push Notifications
How Google describes it: Android 4.1 brings a major update to the Android notifications framework. Apps can now display larger, richer notifications to users that can be expanded and collapsed with a pinch. Notifications support new types of content, including photos, have configurable priority, and can even include multiple actions.
Google has long been ahead in push notifications with Android. Even Apple has had to catch up, with the prime example being how Apple created a drop-down menu for notifications in iOS 5 last year. Google has now taken that a step further by not just making notifications easy to develop for, but also integrating rich media into the drop-down menu. There are some things that iOS, BlackBerry or Windows Phone do better than Android. When it comes to notifications, Android will continue to lead the way.