Thursday, 28 June 2012

Google I/O: Android Jelly Bean and Nexus devices

Google's annual developer conference, Google I/O, is in its fifth year. Last year, the company announced 100 million Android devices were activated. This year, it's 400 million, with over 1 million activations a day. Besides the huge numbers, the company announced three major highlights, including an update to its mobile operating system in the form of Android 4.1, Jelly Bean, which comes with a virtual assistant similar to Apple's Siri (but different, of course).

The company also made much ado about a new Nexus-branded tablet made by Asus as well as a new Android-powered entertainment system called Nexus Q. Here's a quick summary of the highlights:

Jelly Bean

Meet Jelly Bean, the update of the Mountain View-based company's Android operating system. Following in the footsteps of Eclair, Froyo and Gingerbread, the update doesn't bump the OS version number up to 5.0--instead, Jelly Bean is Android 4.1. It will be available in mid-July over the air for the Galaxy Nexus, Nexus Sand Motorola Xoom. If you have a non-stock device, you would have to wait for your manufacturer to roll out the update.

                                          Project Butter
The 4.1 update brings about a whole bunch of new features, including Project Butter, a performance-based enhancement to make the phone experience smooth (like butter). It uses VSync and Triple Buffering to enhance the touch responsiveness.

Jelly Bean also tweaks the Widget adding experience--it will automatically move apps around to make it easy for you to place it, and will resize itself to fit the available space if it is too big.

                                         Voice Typing
Voice Typing now works offline--Google has shrunk the Google Speech recognizer to fit on the device. It currently supports US English, but more languages will be added later.

Improvements are introduced to the Camera, too. There's now a film strip mode, easy deletion of pictures by swiping upwards as well as an undo button.

The Notifications menu has been buffed up with lots of enhancements. You can now +1 or share photos, respond to notifications without having to open the app, and use a two-finger gesture to expand a notification for more information.
                                    Google Now
If you're searching for something through your phone, cards will pop up with the relevant information. It will also be read back to you. Demos include providing the answer to questions like "who is the prime minister of Japan" to showing you pictures of pygmy marmosets.

Google Now is also a new feature that uses the new Card UI and incorporates traffic results, tells you when your next appointment is, helps you plan your travel itinerary and gets smarter as you use it more. Sounds familiar? Oh hello, Siri.
                                            Nexus 7
Meet the new Nexus 7 tablet. Built by Asus, the Jelly Bean slate will retail for US$199. It runs on a quad-core Tegra 3 processor, have 8GB onboard flash storage, a 7-inch WXGA (1,280 x 800 pixel) IPS display and weighs just 340g. Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang had previously hinted that a tablet with these specs will be available this year.
If anything, Amazon should be worried--the Nexus 7 cuts straight at the Kindle Fire's price point, while managing to sport much better hardware. It also features a lot of tweaks designed for users to discover and read content. Chrome will also ship as the standard browser for the Nexus 7.

However, with the rumored Kindle Fire 2 expected to be announced next week--it should be interesting to see what features it will sport and how it will compete with Google's new tablet. Of course, the Kindle Fire 2 is unlikely to be available in Asia while the Nexus 7 will be.

The Nexus 7 is slated for a mid-July launch--you'll be able to order it from, but Google is making it available in the US, Canada, UK and Australia first, with more countries to follow later. 

                                                 Nexus Q
The sphere-like Android computer is basically an entertainment device that's hooked up to your home TV and speakers. It runs on the same processor as the Galaxy Nexus.

Instead of streaming content to the Nexus Q, the device connects directly to Google Play. This means you can use your handset to tell the Nexus Q to play content without waiting for it to stream.

Google also calls it the first "social streaming device", which means friends can add songs and videos to your Q (located at your home). Friends can also take control and push their content to the top. We hope your friends have good tastes in music.

Like the Nexus 7, the Nexus Q will be shipping in mid-July from and will retail for US$299.

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