Enticing new hardware isn’t all that Google
unveiled today at its Google I/O conference; the company also announced the latest version of Android as well as updates to the Google Play Store
Although it’s not Android 5.0 (which is fine, since plenty of users still haven’t sniffed Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich), Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is here. Amid some small performance upgrades such as better finger anticipation, a “smarter” keyboard, minor UI tweaks, there are some substantial upgrades to the mobile OS--some of which are virtually identical to new features found in Apple’s recently-announced iOS 6.
For example, Android users will now be able to reply to notifications right from the notification itself, so you can return a call or reply to an email with ease. Jelly Bean also gives you offline voice typing, which is supposedly fast even without a data connection.
Search functionality has been given a big overhaul and now features a faster UI, voice search, and a Siri-ish, Knowledge Graph-based Q&A engine. You can type in or speak a query, and the device will answer and also list search results.
Google Now is a new feature that appears to more or less be a smooth aggregation of a variety of widgets with predictive capabilities; the feature lets you see information such as weather, traffic, and sports scores, but the most compelling aspect of Now, though, is that it uses data about where you are and what you might be doing to help you out. For example, if you’re at the metro station, Now will offer up a train schedule. If you’re strolling down the block at dinnertime, you can ask Now for a nice place to eat based on data pulled from Google Places.
Users of Galaxy Nexus, Motorola Xoom, and Nexus S devices will receive OTA updates to the new OS in mid-July. At that time, Jelly Bean will be released to open source, too, although a developer SDK is now available.
There are a few nice updates to the Google Play Store, too. Paid apps now have a device-specific encryption key to aid in security, and Smart Updates provide a way to update apps without using as much bandwidth. The bigger news, though, is that users can now purchase movies and TV shows right from the Google Play Store, and magazines have landed there for purchase, as well.
In an effort to make Google+ more relevant and nibble away at Facebook’s unbelievable social network market share, Google is adding a Google+ app to the iPad and is updating it on Android devices, as well. The tablet version of the app includes a stream that’s better suited to the larger screen size, “lean back” Hangouts format designed for groups in sitting areas, and a briskly-performing and fuller UI.
Google+ Events is a new feature with interesting capabilities; it syncs with Google Calendar and lets you create events and send out delightful electronic invitations with cinemagraphic themes and even video. Invited guests don’t even need to be on Google+, and you can email all of your guests at once through Events.
While everyone’s enjoying the event itself, anyone who turns on “Party Mode” can automatically upload photos snapped at the event to the Events page, which will organize them in chronological order; it can even show a live slideshow that guests can enjoy. After the party, the Events page lives on, so people can relive memories or grab some of the better photos from the night. (So that whole putting disposable cameras on the tables at a wedding reception so the bride and groom see photos their friends took when they get back from their honeymoon? No longer a thing.)