Android 4.1 Improvements

Along with the Android 4.1 platform improvements (see here: https://plus.google.com/110905674765005152598/posts/1wGBe8ctv8K), there have been a slew of app-specific updates announced by Google, many of which are available now and some of which will also be available on other platforms. Some of the more notable ones:

* Youtube – Finally, subscription and channel management is improved, along with a preloading feature. Items from marked channels and your ‘Watch Later’ playlist can be loaded in the background when you’re on wifi and with a power source. Enable it in the settings, and loading times get slashed to nearly zero. A remote play feature also indicates greater integration with other devices on network (see GoogleTV / Nexus Q streamer). 

* Search – Is what Google does best, and search results are now integrated with it’s Knowledge Graph. The context-aware results as seen on the web (ie. knowing which ‘Andromeda’ you’re searching for and displaying relevant information instantly), finds it’s way to search results on mobile. 

* Google Now – The most interesting update here, a method for your mobile device to tailor results to your current activity, location and context. For example, if you have a calendar appointment in 30 minutes, it can intelligent search for routes to that location, or bring up options for related activities. Alternatively, if you’re in another country, it might make currency conversions and flight details more accessible. Naturally, you can see this is headed to a world of privacy concerns. 

* Messaging – One of the biggest head scratchers has been solved – Google Talk, Google Messaging (a separate chat component of G+) and Google Hangouts (the free multi-way video conferencing star of G+), have all been combined into one. It didn’t make sense to have separate Talk/Messaging applications at all. The in-built logging of Talk conversations has always been a bonus.

* Google Maps – Improved offline maps support for quicker and non-connected maps functions. Previously, you could enable a very selective offline maps caching area, usually in the vicinity of a few KM at most. Now the offline maps caching allows caching a much larger area. The limit appears to be around a 60-70KM zone, which in my local city (Melbourne), ended up being a 75MB download. Naturally, it downloads in the background so your workflow isn’t interrupted. 

* Google Earth – Not to be outdone by the fancy-but-short lived 3D flyovers in iOS6, detailed 3D modelling in some major cities has been added. I’m pretty sure that Google Earth already had 3D modelled cities for years, but in any case, the result is detailed and smooth. This is done with 45-degree aerial image capture. 

* Google+ – Grows more features, including proper tablet view on Android and iOS and better event creation and management features which tie into Google Calendar. In addition, content specific +1 information for website owners allows more detailed analytics, whilst providing social information for users. More tie-in with Youtube, though this is risky territory.

* Google Drive – Nothing officially announced, but App Engine integration is on the horizon. The aim is to expand Drive from purely consumer-based storage (of which it serves well already), to an EC2 competitor, allowing developers and enterprises to integrate cloud storage into their solutions. The Cloud Messaging service – built into many Chrome and Android functions, is open and free for developers to use. 

* Hardware – The Nexus 7 tablet was announced, with decent specifications and is notable for being Google’s first Nexus foray into the tablet market. Built on a 4-month development cycle by Asus, and priced competitive to the Fire, I believe it’s not aimed at the high-end market like the iPad, but rather bringing ubiquitous cloud service access to the masses. The Nexus range of phones has been exemplary, not because they sell in huge numbers (they don’t), but because they provide a ‘beacon’ effect for other manufacturers to aim towards and build on. More on this when the reviews start coming in, same with the unusual Nexus Q media streamer, and the ambitious Google Glasses project (which a select few outside of Google were allowed to use at I/O 2012).

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