Top 5 Features in Android 4.3 Jelly Bean

This latest version of Android Jelly Bean has many good, new features for both developers and users.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Most people won't find a new version of Android to be as sexy as the latest Nexus 7 tablet, nor will they find it as entertaining as Google's answer to Apple TV, the Chromecast, but it will be bringing many new, strong features for both developers and end-users. Here's my list of the best of them.


First, for Joe and Jane user:

1) Support for Restricted Profiles:

This feature is for users who have kids. Android has allowed you to have multiple users for some time now, but with this version you can finally have restricted profiles.

What that means in English is you can keep junior out of your, ah, questionable apps or Web sites. Technically, it means that you can set up separate environments for each user with fine-grained restrictions in the apps that are available in those environments. According to Google, "Each restricted profile offers an isolated and secure space with its own local storage, home screens, widgets, and settings. Unlike with users, profiles are created from the tablet owner’s environment, based on the owner’s installed apps and system accounts. The owner controls which installed apps are enabled in the new profile, and access to the owner’s accounts is disabled by default."

While ideal for kids, restricted profiles are also ideal for guest users, kiosks, and point-of-sale (POS) devices.  This last point will give Android tablets a chance at the retail POS market that's recently been a strong point for iPads in stores.

2) OpenGL ES 3.0 for High-Performance Graphics:

I know what you're thinking. "How the heck will something called OpenGL ES 3.0 ever matter to an ordinary guy or gal with their smartphone or tablet?"

Easy, they'll never know the tech but they'll enjoy the far higher quality graphics in their games and videos. To really get the most out of it, of course, you'll need the hardware to back it up. Still, I see much better video experiences ahead for high-end Android tablet users.

Today, this is only supported on the new Nexus 7, Nexus 4, and Nexus 10 devices. More will follow.

And, now for the developers. Of course, they'll be busy implementing the above into their programs but what I see as attracting their attention are the other following features.

3) Bluetooth Smart Ready support

You may not know it, but a whole new family of Bluetooth devices have been arriving. What makes them different from their predecessors is Bluetooth Smart Ready. These are designed as sensors. So, for example, one might check if all windows are locked, while another might measure your heart rate. You get the idea.

In Android 4.3, with application programming interface (API) support for Bluetooth Generic Attribute Profile (GATT) services, you can create Android apps that will support these devices. This represents a new and potentially very profitable market for Android developers and their Bluetooth hardware partners.

4) Notification Access

People love those notifications at the top of their Android display. I know I do. I'm constantly checking them. Until this new version of Android appeared developers couldn't access this data stream. Now they can. That is, if you, the user, allow them to.

What developers can do is register a notification listener service that, with your blessing, will receive all the data notifications when they're displayed in the status bar. Developers can then launch applications or services for a new class of "smart" apps.

5) Better Digital Rights Management (DRM)

OK, go ahead and boo. I know you want too. I hate DRM too. But, here's the painful truth, DRM is here to stay and we might as well try to make the best of it.

That's exactly what Google has done with its new modular DRM framework. This will enable developers to more easily integrate DRM into their own streaming protocols such as MPEG Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP (DASH) (PDF Link).

Google has also added new media DRM framework APIs and improved the existing ones to provide  an integrated set of services for managing licensing and provisioning, accessing low-level codecs, and decoding encrypted media data.

The net effect of these changes is it will make DRM easier to manage and it should make video streams with DRM, which are pretty much all of them these days, look and play better. Like I said, Google is making the best of an annoying commercial video necessity.

Now, let's cut to the chase. When will you see it? Will you see it at all? Hugo Barra, vice president of Android product management said that starting July 24th, the original Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablets, and Google's Nexus 4 and Galaxy Nexus smartphones, will get the upgrades over the air. After that, the Google Play editions of the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One will get the upgrade.

As for everyone else... good question. As usual it will depend upon your phone's OEM and your carrier. If you can't stand to wait, possibly forever, for them, you should start looking into alternative Android Jelly Bean ROMs such as Cynaogenmod. I have no doubt they'll be porting Android 4.3 as fast as they can to a wide variety of Android devices.

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