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28 June 2012, 11:14

Android 4.1 arrives

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Zoom The jelly bean monument at Google's Mountain View headquarters
Source: Fumi Yamazaki on Google+

At its Mountain View headquarters, Google put up an Android statue filled with jelly beans yesterday, making it a certainty that a new version of Android would be presented at the Google I/O developer conference. And later that day it did announce "Jelly Bean", Android 4.1 which differs from its predecessors mainly in small details, but Google has also added complete new applications such as the Google Now assistant.

The greatest amount of innovation in Android 4.1 is incorporates in what Google has termed "Project Butter" – designed to ensure that the user interface has a "fast, fluid and smooth" feel, and that there are fewer delays when users input information. To this end, Google uses technologies such as Vertical Synchronisation (VSync) and Triple Buffering: VSync makes sure that the graphics chip doesn't output more frames per second than the screen can display, while Triple Buffering pre-calculates images and buffers them in memory.

The Google Now application is intended as a personal assistant that can plan routes to scheduled appointments, suggest event tickets, or automatically help users orient themselves in unfamiliar places. To tailor the results to the needs of users, Google Now analyses their search queries, frequent locations and travelled routes. Google gave the example of a user who regularly searches for a specific sports team and will, therefore, be informed of the team's next fixture by Google Now. If an appointment is scheduled in Google Calendar, the app checks public transport timings and suggests when the user should leave home.

Zoom The new notification system in Android 4.1 displays much more information

The voice recognition can now be used without an internet connection and corrects words even if they don't appear to make sense within a sentence. Without an internet connection, the software currently only understands English. The synthesised voice sounded quite natural during the presentation.

When a widget is resized on the home screen, any application shortcuts that are in the way will automatically shift to make room. When a widget is dragged to a crowded home screen, it will automatically resize itself to fit in. Widgets and shortcuts can now be deleted from the home screen by pushing them off the screen.

With various apps, the notifications bar will now show additional information. For example, users can now "like" social network postings or control their music application directly from the notifications bar. Various news applications display news items with images and links. Photos can now be displayed by swiping across the camera's viewfinder and they can also be deleted using a swipe gesture.

Introduced at the same event, the Nexus 7 tablet will be the first device to offer Google's new operating system. The Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S and Motorola Xoom devices will be updated with the software at some unspecified time in the future. Google's presenters didn't mention updates for any other Android devices. Most current smartphones and tablets were only recently updated to Android 4.0 or still use the older Android 2.x or 3.x.


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