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June 27, 2012

Android Jelly Bean, Nexus 7 and Nexus Q

If Android ICS (4.0) was about a completely new user interface, Jelly Bean (4.1) is about refining that interface, improving the performance and adding more features.

Google's Project Butter made Android 4.1 more responsive. The interface is smoother, scrolling feels faster, transitions and animations look better. "Android 4.1 reduces touch latency not only by synchronizing touch to vsync timing, but also by actually anticipating where your finger will be at the time of the screen refresh. This results in a more reactive and uniform touch response. In addition, after periods of inactivity, Android applies a CPU input boost at the next touch event, to make sure there's no latency," explains Google.

Jelly Bean comes with rich notifications that can include more content and buttons. Notifications can be expanded and turn into powerful widgets so you can preview photos, share news articles, snooze alerts without opening an app.


Android's keyboard now predicts what you are about to type. "The language model in Jelly Bean adapts over time, and the keyboard even guesses what the next word will be before you've started typing it." The nice thing is that you don't need an Internet connection to see the suggestions. Google even made Android's text-to-speech feature work offline, but only for English.

Google's search app has a new interface that does a better job at handling simple questions. Instead of displaying a list of search results, Google only shows the Knowledge Graph OneBox that includes an answer, a thumbnail and a link to the source. Voice Search has also improved: you no longer need to use predefined commands, it understands natural language and it speaks back to you, just like Siri.


Sometimes you don't need to type a query to find relevant information. Your Android phone knows a lot about you and can help you solve problems without even asking it. Google Now is a new app that offers a lot of useful information depending on your location, your calendar events, your Google queries and more. It shows weather reports, "how much traffic to expect before you leave for work, when the next train will arrive as you're standing on the platform, or your favorite team's score while they’re playing".


Android 4.1 also adds support for Google Cloud Messaging, encryption for all paid apps, smart app updates (only what's changed is downloaded), multicast DNS-based service discovery (applications can easily find other wireless devices), USB audio, multichannel audio (including native AAC 5.1), audio chaining, as well as an interface for choosing where to play media.

There are many audio-related improvements and one of the main reasons for that is a new Android device called Nexus Q. It's a streaming player that costs $299, is made in the US and bridges services like Google Play and YouTube with your speakers and your TV. It comes with a 25W amplifier, it has a dual-core ARM CPU, it runs Android 4.0 and it has a lot of ports (micro HDMI, optical audio, Ethernet, jack speaker, micro USB). It's pretty heavy (2 pounds/923 grams), looks like a sphere and has LEDs that change their color when you're playing music. It's a combination of Apple TV, Boxee Box and Sonos players, but it's rather expensive and limited.


Google also launched Nexus 7, a 7-inch Android tablet manufactured by Asus that will compete with Amazon's Kindle Fire. It has a 1280x800 IPS display with Gorilla glass, a Tegra 3 CPU, 8/16 GB of internal storage, 1 GB of RAM, a front-facing camera and it weighs 340 grams, but the device is not about specs. Nexus 7 integrates with Google Play, which now also offers magazine subscriptions, TV shows and movie purchases. Nexus 7 costs $199 (the 8 GB version) or $249 (the 16 GB version), it's Wi-Fi only and it doesn't support SD cards. Nexus 7 looks like a strong contender for the most popular 7-inch tablet and it's probably the cheapest off-contract Android device that's worth buying.


Both devices will ship in mid-July, but you can pre-order them from the Nexus store, assuming that they're available in your country. Nexus Q is only available in the US, while Nexus 7 can be purchased if you are in the US, Canada, UK or Australia. "Nexus 7 comes preloaded with some great entertainment, including the movie 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon,' the book 'The Bourne Dominion,' magazines like Condé Nast Traveler and Popular Science, and songs from bands like Coldplay and the Rolling Stones. We've also included a $25 credit to purchase your favorite movies, books and more from Google Play, for a limited time," mentions Google.

When will Jelly Bean be available? "Starting in mid-July, we'll start rolling out over-the-air updates to Galaxy Nexus, Motorola Xoom and Nexus S, and we'll also release Jelly Bean to open source," explains Google. Another good news is that, starting with Android 4.1, there's a PDK (platform development kit) that's shared with OEMs a few months before each Android release so that they have more information about the new features and start updating their software early.

There are now more than 400 million Android devices and 1 million devices are activated every day. Google Plays hosts more than 600,000 apps.

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