With its much-anticipated Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean" OS release imminent, Google is keeping Apple on its toes in the mobile computing space, say software developers. "Jelly Bean" offers a host of feature improvements, pursuing smooth, fluid user interactions via Project Butter, expandable notifications, and personalized home screens.
"They've done a lot to improve things," says Ian Clifton, an Android developer at ARO, a mobile apps startup. "Each new version of Android has gotten a little bit faster, a little bit smoother, so they're closing that gap between Android and [Apple's] iOS. At the same time, we saw a lot of new feature releases," such as improved accessibility for visually impaired people and a "smarter" keyboard that learns which words users are likely to input.
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Others also are taking notice of how Android is faring against iOS. "Personally, I'm an iOS kind of guy, but this is fully opening my eyes to the world of Android," says Sherban Drulea, a Web software developer at game producer Activision Blizzard. "It looks like the responsiveness and notification systems -- two features iOS hasn't implemented as well -- could give [Google] an edge."
Rather than viewing "Jelly Bean" as Android's equalizer to iOS, Marcus Kazmierczak, vice president of engineering at BabyCenter.com, says Google had already reached that milestone: "Both can do pretty much everything you want to do. They're on par."
Developers are taking notice of features such as Google Now, an enhancement to Google search for pinpointing information such as traffic conditions and sports updates based on users' past behavior. "The thing that interested me was the Google Now feature," Kazmierczak says.
What stood out to ARO's Clifton are smoother interactions in the UI and the improved accessibility. "I'm glad to see they're putting a lot more interaction in accessibility" for people with visual impairments, he says.
"The drop-down [capabilities on the interface] and everything else is very slick," says Greg Hohenbrink, manager of enterprise portals, collaboration, and content management at Scotts Miracle-Gro. More fluid gesture swipes on "Jelly Bean" devices are a plus for version 4.1, says Chris Schoenfeld, a developer in the future technologies group at book publisher Pearson. "They're paying a lot more attention to some rough corners in Android that need to be ironed out a little bit, and it's really good to see that," he says. Gesture swipes on Android have historically been problematic, he notes.
Also welcome were the enhanced widget capabilities in "Jelly Bean." "One really subtle thing that I really appreciated was the ability to move widgets to the different home screens" and have them resize themselves, says Blake Cicheskie, a computer engineering student at the University of Florida. "I had an [Android] 'Ice Cream Sandwich' tablet, where that became an issue sometimes when I wanted to add widgets or delete widgets."
Meanwhile, Cicheskie says the Project Butter visual performance improvements -- which ensure that all apps and processes refresh the screen at the same intervals -- "are really going to shine," he says. "It's really going to make Android much more smoother." Activision's Drulea also praises the visual improvements: "The most impressive things to me were probably the visual enhancements -- the frame rate and the responsiveness. ... That's pretty cool."
Another student, Apoorva Bansal of the University of Michigan, cites the new cards capabilities in search for presenting related information in one place. "That was definitely an improvement on the UI."
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