The announcements coming out of Google I/O  were fast and furious. A bevvy of hardware and software unveilings teased our expectations–not the least of which was showing off the newest version of the Android OS on Google’s own Nexus 7 tablet.

We’re getting a decimal point update to Android, but it’s coming with some substantial improvements.

On the surface, Android 4.1 (code name: Jelly Bean) looks a lot like it’s Ice Cream Sandwich predecessor, and you probably wouldn’t be blamed for confusing an ICS device for a JB gadget.

The most noticeable update comes to the notification drawer. You didn’t expect Google to sit idly by while Apple ripped off one of Android’s best features, did you?

Now, notifications can be expanded in the drawer providing users more information directly, including expanding text and photos. Users now have temporary contextual widgets every time they slide the drawer down.

Expect to also see a speed bump. JB will be using a new graphics engine which should speed up the entire interface. Homescreens, transitions, menus should all now be rendered at 60 fps. Android is primed to take a big step towards the kind of fluid interface iOS and Windows Phone are praised for.

Android Beam will bring a host of new file transfer and connectivity options, including the ability to use bluetooth and NFC to institute file swaps. This is exciting for those of us who hate going through services like iTunes to move files; and with WiFi direct, Android apps will now be able to communicate directly with other devices and services without needing to be connected to a router.

Gesture API’s will help developers add motion and gesture controls to apps, and Media Code access will allow developers low-level access to hardware and software codecs. We should be seeing better media support.

The Android ecosystem will also be evolving.

Smart app updates will allow developers to update pieces of apps. With apps growing in size, this should help reduce overall traffic.

Most exciting however, was the announcement of an Android PDK (Partner Developer Kit). The PDK will give manufacturers earlier access to Android updates, so Samsung/HTC/Motorola/LG/etc should have access long before the public is notified of the next update. Hopefully, this reduces the amount of time in between an update being announced and our phones actually receiving new software.  As it stands now, Google’s own Nexus line is set to usurp sales from Android partners precisely because of support delays.

Exciting times to be an Android user–and for the full run down on all of the Jelly Bean improvements, check out the Android Developer blog.

 

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