Google I/O coverage on Pocketables

Google I/O day 1, part 1: Android 4.1 Jellybean

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Google’s annual developer conference kicked off today with the announcement of the latest version of Android. As we expected, it isn’t a massive platform change, but a slight decimal bump to version 4.1. Sill, this new version of Android offers quite a number of new improvements and features that we have been waiting for.

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Google Now

Probably one of the most anticipated  additions to Android 4.1 is Google’s improved voice assistant. Although Google isn’t actually calling the feature Majel – or even a voice assistant at all – it is clear that Google Now is its response to Apple’s Siri. The new search feature mines user’s data to provide helpful information in what Google is calling “cards,” which look like something you might see in WebOS. These cards contain information relevant to the user based on their personal data. For example, Google demonstrated how Google Now would see a calendar appointment with a time and address, and then show you a card with a map, estimated driving time, and when you would need to leave to be there on time. Google also demonstrated a card that shows live sports scores, and chooses teams to display based on search and browsing history. In addition, Google’s voice search application has been improved and will now speak some answers back to you and work better with natural language. To demonstrate, the presenter asked who the Prime Minister of Japan was, and the Nexus spoke back the correct answer and provided a card with additional relevant information.

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New interface

Jelly Bean includes a cleaned and refreshed UI compared to previous versions. The changes aren’t drastic, but Google has been hard at work tweaking and changing the little things to make the OS more unified and visually appealing overall. There are also a number of new features that have been added to the homescreen app, including smart widget resizing and icon arrangement to make customization easier.

Reduced lag

Another big focus of Android 4.1 is various background improvements to make the entire OS faster and more fluid. The improvements, codenamed Project Butter, may not be immediately obvious, but rest assured that they are there. Google ran a demo with two devices, and the one with the Jelly Bean improvements fared much better in terms of smoothness than the previous version.

Cleaner Play Store

Magazines and movie purchases have been added to the Play Store to compliment the new Nexus 7, and the UI has gotten a slight makeover as well. The main theme is still the same, but there is less clutter, especially reflections, and the entire app has been made just a little bit cleaner and sleeker to match the rest of Android 4.1.

Improved notifications

The notification shade has been greatly improved in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and now includes much more information and interactivity with notifications than before. For example, when there is a missed call notification, a contextual button will now show up next to it to allow you to easily call back. In addition, apps that add support for the new notification API will be able to be expanded within the notification bar to show more information. Google demonstrated a Google+ notification expanding to show an image and response options like the +1 button and a repost button, as well as the Pulse News notification. Pulse News was actually quite impressive, as the new posts notification could be expanded to show the new posts in a view almost identical to the app’s actual interface and widgets. Essentially, it was the Pulse News widget in the notification drawer, but with a real-time twist.

Offline voice recognition

Voice dictation has always been one of my favorite features of Android, as it is quite useful for everything from searching to composing long emails or chat messages. Among the new features in Android 4.1, Google has added the ability to use voice recognition when your device is offline, whereas previously you had to be online in order for voice recognition to work. Obviously, if your device is offline then voice recognition won’t be very useful for things like search and email, but could still be used to compose messages and documents to be sent later. It also seems plausible that the transition may also make voice recognition faster, since it will no longer have to rely on the current network connection to work. I just wonder how much space the new app will take up on my Galaxy Nexus, especially because it doesn’t come with expandable storage.

According to Google, the Jelly Bean update will first be landing on the Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S, and Motorola Xoom about halfway through next month. The source code for the new version will also be made available at that time. It’s going to feel like a long wait, but soon enough many Nexus users should be able to enjoy the new features of Jelly Bean. As for those with other devices, we will have to wait and see.

[Google I/O Live]

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Aaron Orquia

Aaron Orquia is an associate editor at Pocketables. He has been using Android and Linux since he bought his first computer years ago, and his interest in technology, software, and tweaking both to work just right has only grown stronger since then. His current gadgets include a OnePlus One, a Pebble smartwatch, and an Acer C720 Chromebook.

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