A deep look into Android 41

first_imgIt has been eight short months since Google and Samsung took the stage together to announce the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and the new version of Android to accompany it. Android 4.0 signified the great unification of the tablet and phone user experience, and completely changed the way Android handled a lot of tasks both internally and externally.Across the entire platform, it was such a massive change that many people who had a previous generation device are still not updated. Even the CyanogenMod developer team, who in the past has been notorious for getting an update to a device long before the manufacturer, still does not have an official release of Android 4.0 running. So, with less than 10% of the Android ecosystem running Android 4.0, Google proudly took the stage in San Francisco this week and announced Android 4.1.“It’s not really called Project Butter”Every inch of the OS has received significant polish. The OS is just plain smooth when you do anything. At Google IO, it was explained to us that this was the result of a beautification project that was internally called Project Butter. The next day, at the Android Fireside chat, it was made clear that nobody called it Project Butter, saying that it was “just a marketing thing”. Whatever you want to call it, the result is pretty incredible.Setting an Android 4.0 and an Android 4.1 Galaxy Nexus next to each other you can see the difference if you look carefully. That’s the point of the polish, to remove all of those quirky little lags that no one wants to admit have always been a part of Android. Every time you swipe to another screen, or return to your Home menu, there used to be just a little barely noticeable stutter. It’s gone, and it is amazing the difference it makes.My biggest pet peeve about Android 4.0 was with the Gallery. On the Galaxy Nexus, if you had a lot of photos stored on Picasa and Google+ and anything else that attached the Gallery app, it would often take upwards of 20 seconds for any part of the Gallery to load. It was absolutely unbearable on a device like the Galaxy Nexus, and was still noticeably slow on powerhouses like the Samsung Galaxy S3. This doesn’t happen in Android 4.1 at all.The Gallery app loads seamlessly, and every folder from every service is there instantly. The fact that it works so well on the Galaxy Nexus, which is an 8 month old device, gives me plenty of hope that phones like the Droid RAZR, the Samsung Galaxy S3, and the HTC One series will also look spectacular if and when they finally get running on Android 4.1.Flexible HomescreensIn keeping with the very smooth animations found all over in Android 4.1, you can manipulate things on the homescreen with much greater ease now. When you place anything on the homescreen and you already have something in that space, the icon will move out of the way for you. This works for apps, folders, and widgets. During the demo at IO, when a large widget was placed on the screen everything re-positioned itself instantly. It works just that fast every time you do it, and if the apps outnumber the widget, it will re-size if possible. If it is not possible, the app will flash red and you will need to toss it away in order to fix it.Tossing app shorcuts from the homescreen into the garbage is very simple now. Previously, you needed to drag the icon all the way to the trash can and release to discard the app. This works on most phones, but on tablets it’s kind of a pain. Now, all you need to do it flick the app in the general direction of the remove text that drops down. The selected icon will go sailing across the screen until it disappears off the top of the device.Highly Functional Navigation DrawerOne of my favorite things about Android is the navigation drawer. Everything gets its own notification icon, so I don’t need to constantly stop what I am doing to check every little notification. Previously, however, if I wanted to actually do anything about a notification aside from dismiss it, I needed to leave the app I was already in. Especially when watching a video or reading an article on a website, that got annoying at times. Android 4.1 supports actions within the notification drawer. If someone calls me, for example, I can choose to either answer the call or respond to the call with a short message telling them I am “in a meeting”.Each notification is also given an exploded view for more information. My Gmail now shows me the titles of multiple messages, for example. As more developers pick this up, the notification tray will gain even more functionality. The biggest benefit to the new notification tray is that it is not only transparent, but can be pulled down even when you are in the middle of a full screen app. When playing a game or something similar, you can pull down the drawer without affecting what you are currently doing and interact with your notifications.A few more steps to make it easier to useOne of the downsides to being able to share virtually everything on an OS with every other app at the touch of a button is choice. As strange as it sounds, when I open a link someone sent me in chat, I don’t want to scroll down a list of applications that know what to do with that app. I’d like to be able to select the app I most commonly use to complete that task and move on.Android has been really good about making this a fairly seamless experience already, but sometimes the situation is less cut and dry. Sometimes you have links that you’d rather open in another application. If you have already selected one app to behave as the default, there are way more steps involved in moving that around so you can open that link in the app you want. Sometimes those steps even involve digging around in Settings>Apps and removing the defaults for that app.Android 4.1 now adds a step in the opening process that allows you to choose whether or not you want to open that link the same way every time, or just once. This will be especially useful for people who occasionally still use Flash based content, but prefer Chrome for Android when it comes to more general browsing. This task system will be really useful in more general situations as well, and more importantly it makes it so the user doesn’t have to go digging through Apps settings unless they really need to.Final ThoughtsIn a world with crazy powerful devices like the HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S3, Android 4.1 had me quickly grabbing for my Galaxy Nexus to enjoy the phone. Right now the Galaxy Nexus feels faster than any of the other devices in many critical places. Combined with the impressive presentation of the Nexus 7, Android 4.1 is very impressive for something that is supposed to be a minor incremental update.The biggest challenge moving forward is to getting other devices running Android on to 4.1. This new version of Android was released in the same week that Motorola announced their most successful phone since the original Droid was finally getting Android 4.0. So far, none of the manufacturers have spoken up with excitement towards getting the latest version of Android on their phones in any short order, and that could be a problem.As Google releases cooler and cooler toys, how long will it be before anybody gets to use them?last_img read more