At the Google I/O conference today, Google showed a renewed understanding of consumer behavior, with a new version of Android (4.1) that’s much slicker and that has a better search experience, a new Google-designed tablet that uses Android 4.1, and a radically different living-room product, the Nexus Q media streamer.
The 4.1 ("Jellybean") version of the mobile operating system features updates from the Project Butter team at Google. The updates are said to make the operating system more fluid and responsive. The engineering culture at Google is giving way, showing that it understands that consumers are sensitive to nuance in fit and finish.
And since users shouldn’t be bothered to pay attention to their connection state all the time, Google’s new voice recognition system now works even when you’re offline. Obviously you won’t be able to search Google when offline, but for dictating a text or e-mail, the system no longer needs a data link. Developers, also, can use the recognizer without chewing up their users’ data plans.
The nuance extends to search results, which are no longer always lists of links on a small page. For some queries, Android will show a "card" of search results; it appears to use the information from the Knowledge Graph project, which was unveiled last month. It’s the right way to present information for users on small screens.
For developers, probably the most important change to Android 4.1 is its expanded and improved notification services. Now, alerts that come in from apps can give users actions to perform, and notifications can be expanded to show more data, without requiring the user to jump to the app itself. This is just what developers need to make their location-focused apps more useful and more present for users.
The changes should give Apple’s super-slick iOS devices a run for their money in consumer retail. Not that android is exactly hurting as it is; the company claims 400 million Android devices in the field, with one million new ones being activated every day.
Still, Google, now getting more traffic from mobile devices than the Web, needs more than just a good operating system. Apple has shown how controlling the entire experience, from hardware to applications, can work for a tech company. So Google is extending on its Nexus program to build Google-specced smartphones to the tablet realm, with the new Nexus 7. This 7-inch tablet will also run the new operating system.