The Googleplex has a new Android statue today, this one for the "J" (JellyBean) version. It joins statues for Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, FroYo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, and IceCreamSandwich. The A and B statues were reportedly eaten by Apple lawyers.
The arrival of a new statue can only mean one thing: Android JellyBean will be released to developers soon. Given that Google I/O starts tomorrow, the Software Developer Kit (SDK) will most likely be available to download then. It may also be preloaded (or available with an OTA update) on the rumored Google Nexus 7 tablet.
The SDK contains all the libraries and documentation that developers need to target a particular version of Android. Using the latest SDK and a compatibility library, a programmer can target all versions of Android past and future.
Just as on iOS platforms, Android users do not have to take the most recent version of the operating system when it comes out for their devices. Many don't have a choice or have to wait for their carrier or manufacturer to make it available. So developers have to look at the adoption percentages of each version and decide how far back they want to be compatible. Usually two or three versions is enough to capture the lion's share of the market.
Devices that carry the "Nexus" name, especially those purchased directly from Google, are different because Google controls both the hardware and software. Updates come direct from Google, so Nexus users are expected to see JellyBean before anyone else.
Don't despair if you don't have a Nexus phone or tablet and you use one of the carriers that are less than timely with updates, though. First of all, if you have a recent version, say 2.3.3 (Gingerbread) or above, your device will continue to work just fine and be supported by new applications for at least the next couple of years. Second, you always have the option of installing a custom ROM. Cyanogenmod is the best known custom ROM, and it enjoys "wink-and-nod" unofficial approval by Google. You do have to take the scary step of rooting your device, but nowadays Cyanogen and the team over at XDA have it down to a science.
I'm the kind of person that always wants the latest gadgets and software whether I need it or not. If you are looking to buy a new phone or tablet, and buying a Nexus device direct from Google is not an option, at least get one that runs Android 4.0 (IceCreamSandwich) out of the box. It's very likely that anything running ICS now will be compatible with JellyBean, and will get an upgrade to the new version one way or another.
- Google heralds next Android with Jelly Bean sculpture
- Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean": Another update most will never see