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Four improvements we could see in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean

Jelly Bean

It seems all but assured that Google is going to unveil a new version of Android at Google I/O this week. The software will reportedly be version 4.1, and called Jelly Bean in Google’s ongoing alphabetical treat naming scheme. A “0.1” bump isn’t traditionally seen as a big software revision so don’t expect miracles from Jelly Bean. Still, Google kept the Eclair name for the 2.0-2.1 update, so maybe there’s something important coming.

Either way, let’s take a look at the biggest features that could plausibly show up in Android 4.1 this week.

Chrome leaves beta

Chrome

Earlier this year, Google finally made good on years of rumor and speculation by releasing a version of Chrome for Android. Like the stock Android browser, Chrome for Android uses the WebKit rendering engine, but everything else about this app was a departure (in a good way).

Chrome brought much improved tab management, a cleaner user interface, and true synchronization with desktop Chrome. The app is still only available on the scant few (Android 4.0 and higher) devices, but surely Google has had enough time to work out those beta bugs. An Android 4.1 announcement would be enhanced by the inclusion of Chrome as the new default browser.

If a tablet, like the rumored Nexus device, is the launch device for Jelly Bean, a full Chrome rollout would be all the better. The interface of Chrome is totally different on a tablet — it looks and works just like desktop Chrome, in fact. This would show off the Nexus tablet and Android 4.1 quite well.

UI refinements

JB Search

Android 4.0 is much more attractive than the platform ever was before. The color palate is more mature and cohesive, for starters. The font is much easier to read on a wide variety of screen resolutions as well. That said, there is always room for improvement, especially in a 0.1 release.

From leaked screenshots it looks like the Android 4.0 search box has been reskinned, and there will probably be some deeper search integration built into that interface. A clear point of contention for users has been the way Android handles contact photos. The big, beautiful portraits used in the Ice Cream Sandwich People and Phone apps really show off how badly Google compresses contact avatars. With Android 4.1, it would be nice to see Google deal with this niggling concern.

Don’t think for a second that this should all be taken for granted. Time has to be made for these kind of house keeping UI enhancements, and big releases aren’t the right time. A “dot” release like this is the perfect time for refining what’s already there.

Majel/Voice Control

Voice

Apple has had Siri on the iPhone since last fall, which effectively leapfrogged any of the available Android solutions. The luster might have faded from Siri in the intervening months, but it’s still a selling point for many users. Apple is also adding new features to Siri’s repertoire in iOS 6. Samsung’s S Voice on the Galaxy S3 is a nice start, but Android needs a solution for the entire ecosystem.

It was months ago that we first started hearing about a voice control app code named Majel. Could this be the time for Majel to make an appearance? A well integrated voice control system needs hooks deep in the OS for the best experience. For this reason, it would make the most sense for Google’s Siri clone to become a integral part of a new software build, and Jelly Bean would fit the bill.

This might be the most hard to swallow prediction, seeing as there have been virtually no leaks as of late. However, it might just be one of those projects so important that Google goes to extremes to keep it quiet. With Apple rolling Siri out to its super-successful tablet ecosystem, it’s time for Google to at least try to retake the voice control crown.

Performance and battery life

low-battery

Android phones have struggled with battery life since the days of the T-Mobile G1. The platform allows apps to run in the background, and even wake themselves up to perform tasks. This is part of what has made Android so adaptable and a great alternative to the iPhone, but the battery can take a real hit from such activities.

Google has been tweaking battery life over time, and Android 4.1 will be no different. A few behind the scenes changes to better manage the processor and the activity of background processes seems just right for a release like Jelly Bean. The rumor is that the Nexus tablet will have all day battery life.

Along with battery life, performance is still a concern on Android. Despite past changes to the code compiler and garbage collection framework, Android still sputters and lags on occasion. Tablets seem to have more problems than phones for whatever reason, so a Nexus tablet would be a good opportunity to clean things up. The rumored Tegra 3 chip in the Nexus tablet would provide a robust platform on which to better optimize Android for multi-core processing, and provide a faster OS to consumers.

Odds are that Android 4.1 is not going to completely revolutionize the platform. If it were being rumored as version 5.0, then we might have something to talk about. Android took such a big step with 4.0 that it’s just unfathomable Mountain View would change everything now. Still, features like Chrome for Android and full voice control could arrive built-in. The new OS would be nicely rounded out by plausible changes to the UI and battery life to performance ratio. Whatever happens, we won’t know until Google hits the stage tomorrow.


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