Google has officially unveiled Android 'Jelly Bean' 4.1, taking on Apple's Siri with enhanced voice-driven search and a personal assistant feature called Google Now.
Android Jelly Bean will debut on Google's own Nexus 7 tablet, and promises better voice-driven search to take on Apple's Siri. Image credit: Google
Jelly Bean will debut on the Asus-made Nexus 7 tablet — also announced at Google I/O on Wednesday — and will start rolling out
to the Galaxy Nexus and Nexus S smartphones and Motorola Xoom tablet
in mid-July. In addition to the Siri-like
features, the update introduces a significantly enhanced
notifications system and security features for developers.
"Today's smart devices still rely on you to do pretty much
everything — that is, until now," Android chief Andy Rubin said
in a blog
post. "Google Now is a new feature that gets you just the right
information at just the right time. It tells you today's weather
before you start your day, how much traffic to expect before you leave
for work, or your favourite team's score as they're playing. There's
no digging required: cards appear at the moment you need them
Jelly Bean's enhanced search draws on the Knowledge
Graph functionality added to Google Search in May.
The Knowledge Graph is a significant advance in semantic search
that makes context much more important when calculating results.
Google is so confident in the viability of the Knowledge Graph
that the voice search in Jelly Bean will usually attempt to return one
results 'card' showing key facts about the search result. However, that will be accompanied below by a list of further
Android's notifications system has received a boost, becoming
far more dynamic and interactive. People will be able to initiate
phone calls directly from a missed-call notification. Plus, developers
will be able create 'actions' for their apps' newly-expandable
notifications — allowing the user to 'like' something directly
from the notifications menu, for example.
Google Play, the company's iTunes rival, got a couple of updates in
Wednesday's announcements too. The platform now includes magazines and
TV shows, and it offers up movies for sale as well as for rental.
In a bid to encourage uptake of Google Play, the £159 Nexus 7 comes with a
£15 voucher for the store.
One of the key announcements at Google I/O was the arrival of the Android platform development kit (PDK), which will be given to
hardware makers a few months before each update to the mobile OS.
This is intended to reduce Android fragmentation, as it will make it easier
for manufacturers to update their own customised version of the operating system more quickly, so customers can in turn update their phones or tablets sooner.
Google has also addressed another frequently-cited concern of
Android developers, namely people copying their apps without paying.
"From Jelly Bean and forward, paid apps in Google Play are encrypted
with a device-specific key before they are delivered and stored on the
device," the company wrote in a
developer blog post. "We know you work hard building your apps. We
work hard to protect your investment."
Jelly Bean also comes with new APIs for accessibility services,
making it easier for developers to integrate gesture-based commands
for the visually-impaired. Other new APIs target functionality such as
network bandwidth management and low-level media codec access.
In a move that could prove useful to both users and developers,
Google has updated the Play store so that app updates no longer
require the fresh downloading of the app's entire installation package (APK). Instead, the new 'smart app update' will only download the part of the APK that has changed, saving on bandwidth and battery.
According to Google, there are now more than a million new Android
device activations each day.