It's seems like only yesterday we were all crowded around our laptops, watching a live stream and getting amped for Ice Cream Sandwich. Truth is, that was six months ago now and, while most of the Android running public still hasn't been blessed with 4.0, it's already time to make the leap to 4.1. Today Google officially took the wraps off Jelly Bean, the next evolution of its mobile platform and while it's not quite the revolutionary shift that was Gingerbread to ICS,it still marks an important improvement for the ecosystem. One of the biggest features is Project Butter, a deep-diving effort to improve performance and response time. The whole system hums along at 60fps now, and while the difference of a few milliseconds might sound like small potatoes, it becomes glaringly apparent the moment you run Jelly Bean next to an ICS device. Animations are smoother and quicker. The CPU immediately ramps up the moment a touch is detected to ensure speedy response.
The home screen has also been tweaked, adding some nice features like dynamically resizing widgets, so you no longer have to place it, resize it then move it to where you want if there isn't enough room. If there is room, but your app icons are merely in the way, the widget will automatically push them to the side. And, in a nice, slick touch, apps and widgets can be removed by flicking them off the screen. Another extremely welcome touch is the addition of offline voice input. Now you can tap the microphone and dictate a message even with the phone in airplane mode.
The camera app, which was already a highlight of ICS, has gotten even better in 4.1. Now, the gallery is slickly integrated, allowing you to quickly pull up the photo you just took with a swipe to the left. You can keep swiping through your images or even pinch to zoom out and view all your images in a filmstrip view. Deleting images is as simple as swiping a pic off the screen and, if you've manage to accidentally remove one, a quick tap of the undo button restores it. And, speaking of images, you can now share them and video using Google Beam, and Android now supports pairing with Bluetooth devices with the assistance of NFC.
One of the most drastic updates is to the already incredible notification system. Alerts dynamically expand and shrink as they roll in, and canned responses are even integrated. When an MMS pops up you get a preview of the image and can even view full size without leaving the notification area. You can even +1 Google+ notifications and images from same UI. Basically Google has combined its top notch notification system with a interactive, unified inbox.
Google Now and the revamped search functions probably got the most applause of the day, though. The tweaked app has a brand new UI and will even respond to your queries in an impressively human sounding synthesized voice. The new design takes queues from the recently updated Google+, with large cards for results that you can swipe away. It also heavily personalized your results based on your search history and the vast stores of data Google has built up about you thanks to its various services. Google Now is smart enough to know when you're at a bus stop and will tell you when your ride will arrive, or alert you to delays for your flights. It will even monitor your calendar and tell you when you'll need to leave your location to make your next appointment. In short, Google knows all. Welcome to your extremely convenient and extremely creepy future.
Jelly Bean will be rolling out to Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S and Xoom devices in mid July, along with the open source code. Developers though, can start playing with the SDK today.