I’m thoroughly impressed by what Google has announced, instead of resting on their laurels, they’re addressing the deficiencies of each platform and providing noticeable, usable and genuinely innovative improvements with each iteration. Unlike some competitors, they’re not trapped in their own legacy.
A quick summary of the important updates of 4.1, without the marketing fluff:
* Project Butter: Revamped UI rendering – refresh rate has been increased to 60 FPS, maximum CPU priority for user touch-screen events. The number one point iOS users mention is the difference in smoothness and responsiveness between the two. iOS prioritises touch events to the point of even stopping current web page rendering. 4.1 also brings predictive rendering, where the OS knows where the most likely next user interaction will occur on the screen, rendering that part first. If you’re more technical, also know that triple-buffering is now enabled, where the GPU pre-renders a number of frames ahead of time. We should see blistering performance on the UX front from these improvements.
* Smart Notifications – The notifications bar is unintrusive, and something that nearly all Android users commonly use. Improvements in quick-access functions directly from the notification bar, while providing more information, without leaving the current app. Some 3.0/4.0 apps already do this. Expect this to also be duplicated in the next iOS release.
* Google Play Store Updates – You can already install apps from the webpage, now you can update and uninstall them too. Finally, cloud done right. Also, Delta updates, where just the part of the app that’s updated gets downloaded. This is something that nearly everybody does for large downloads and a sensible option, seeing apps increase in size. On average, download sizes are reduced by nearly 2/3. Much better than setting arbitrary and annoying 50MB update limits on 3G.
* Browser – The Android generic browser, previously known as just ‘Browser’ or ‘Internet’ is gone, replaced completed by Google Chrome. Tab and bookmark sync, extensions and all the other goodies to follow. The HTML5 experiments page which showcase fancy projects, is also now mobile-friendly. Chrome has been in beta for a while, and it’s now stable and fast enough to use as the primary browser.
* Offline Voice Search – The entire voice recognition engine now sits on the phone, so you can do voice input OS-wide, in any text field, without an internet connection. This is something that I expect competitors will struggle to match for a while yet.
* Smarter homescreen – Items can self-arrange, widgets can resize intelligently based on the available space. A separate widget API has been provided to developers for greater widget customisation. Greater flexibility than Microsoft’s fixed live tiles.
* Other – Improved camera app and photo management (easier filmstrip view, with swipe gestures), improved keyboard with word prediction based on the context of what you’re typing, multicast DNS-based service discovery on local networks (this will tie in with the remote media playing later) and Google Beam improvements, tying in with Bluetooth usage for faster and more reliable data transfers. Improved accessibility functions for blind users, and improved gestures.
* Platform Development Kit (PDK) – Released to select OEM partners 2-3 months before an Android revision, allowing them to more rapidly integrate changes into their customised OS. This directly addresses concerns of platform fragmentation. The standard 4.1 SDK has of course been released to developers – which includes new tools including ‘systrace’, which provides visualisation of CPU/GPU/sub-system usage and troubleshooting.
* Release date: Mid-July to Nexus S, Xoom, Galaxy Nexus, and of course the newly released Nexus 7 tablet. Expect manufacturer-specific updates to follow within 3-6 months or consult your favourite ROM depository.
All in all, not bad for the price of free. There’s plenty more, see link below. More updates coming soon.