Just the other day I posed the question: when exactly are we going to see the next Android version? A few days later, like I rightfully suspected, the July 24th media breakfast with Android and Chrome chief Sundar Pichai provided not only a solid answer in the official announcement of Android 4.3 but also a solid backup in the refreshed Nexus 7 tablet. Just like the Android 4.2 announcement, there isn’t much fanfare about this one. It is another iteration of Jelly Bean with no major overhaul but rather some minor housekeeping here and there and several under the hood improvements interspersed with what we expected like Bluetooth LE. I tend to think of Android 4.3 as a placeholder of the next big break in the Android update cycle, Android 5.0 Key Lime Pie which we expect to be announced before the year wraps up.
Now that we have it (or at least the Nexus device owners have it), what is there? What about it? Read on.
Multi-user profiles and restricted profiles
It is not big news as far as the multi-user profiles (we’ve had that on tablets since the Android 4.2 update last year) are concerned. It is just an enhancement coupled with under the hood improvements like speeding up the switching process and making it more effective so that you don’t need to shut down your Android tablet in order to switch user accounts. It just happens, like a SIM card hot swap. From the comfort and easy accessibility of your lock screen.
It is in the restricted profiles that it gets really interesting. I remember answering a couple of tweets on the best apps for blocking some other users like children (of course with no user accounts enabled) from accessing certain content. There is hope after all. Restricted profiles allow the one in charge to restrict content like apps that can be accessed by say, kids. One can easily turn on/off what apps can be accessed.
Based on which account is currently accessing the device; many things can be locked down. For instance a kid playing a game that requires purchasing some in-game currency like coins in order to unlock extra features or game levels may be able to play that game but not see those options. Select users can visit, say the Play Store, but not see the option to buy apps. This makes sure there aren’t some curious purchases made by your gaming niece appearing on your credit card statement next time you drop by the bank.
This may not have been highlighted a lot throughout the analysis after the livestream of the event but it is big news for some of us. I’m in the coastal city of Mombasa at the moment and here and all over East Africa, Kiswahili is big. Swahili is not just a language but a culture and a way of life. And now my favourite mobile OS has that baked in by default with this Android update. How cool can it get? I remember wishing that Samsung will in the next update consider including Swahili in the many languages that S Translator can translate. Google has, thankfully, gone 9 steps into making that possible. Only one step remains. Your move Samsung.
There is also added support for other African languages like Zulu and Amharic. The excitement should not be overdone though since this is still not full support but we are getting there. Just like the guys who speak Arabic and Hebrew already got there with this update.
We’ve pretty much known that this was coming. What is called Bluetooth Smart is in essence Bluetooth Low Energy. Why is it important? It drains much less battery when compared to the conventional Bluetooth that currently powers your device. In an era where battery life is becoming more important than ever before this is big news. It is one of the few areas that Android was still playing catch up but we’re finally there – Apple, Blackberry and Microsoft have had this for a while. Samsung and several other Android OEMs have been ready with Bluetooth Smart ready devices for a while now (since the Galaxy S III). Another reason why this is important is the rise and rise of usage of Bluetooth accessories and the sudden rise in interest of wearable tech like smart watches. This should allow constant syncing with such devices without affecting battery life. If you use fitness sensors when exercising and slimming up (hello Runtastic app users) then this is good news too, pairing with your device just got a lot better.
Want to know more about Bluetooth Smart? Here.
Apps can now interact with the notifications displayed on the status bar in Android as they are posted and send them to other devices (like smart watches) connected via Bluetooth.
Open GL ES 3.0
If you are a gamer then you know what this is. Now natively supported by the OS, gaming just got better with support for high performance graphics using the Open GL ES 3.0 standard.
Autocomplete on the Dial Pad
There is that “I hate skinned Android” attitude all over the interwebs by the 1% of Android users that would fight World War III just to get stock Android on their devices. This is where they get trolled. There’s now autocomplete on the stock dialer app. Just start typing your girlfriend’s number and the system will do the rest. It will start offering suggestions based on who it is you have saved on your phonebook and what numbers you are punching in. While this is news to many, I have been using it on Samsung’s skinned Android for a while now.
Always-On Wi-Fi Scanning
It’s like yesterday’s announcement was all about pleasing us battery-meter conscious folks. There’s one more thing (pardon the pun): always-on Wi-Fi scanning. If you really want to save your juice one of the most frequent advices you normally hear is that “switch off Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, auto-sync” blah blah blah. While I am not a believer in switching off your device’s core functions just to maintain the battery life you want, currently there aren’t better choices. Not anymore. With always-on Wi-Fi scanning, you can leave your device’s Wi-Fi on so that it can check you in via Google to all your favourite spots in town as you drive by and that it can always scan for nearby networks and maybe connect to the ones it can remember without you lifting a finger; all that without eating into your battery. Your device is turned into a passive mode that makes sure very little juice is drained so you get the desired functionality and your juice stays intact, no one sips it. Talk of having your cake and eating it.
This is the best when it comes to location detection. Just disable GPS since it is surely going to drain your battery and leave Always-on Wi-Fi scanning to auto-toggle your Wi-Fi for location services as you go about your daily activities.
DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. This is a feature that allows media application developers to integrate DRM into their content streaming protocols whilst maintaining their exclusivity and having total control of what is being streamed to the end user. It is not for everyone but just content providers, they can use this to give more functionality to Android users.
For those lucky to have Netflix in their countries, 1080p streaming is now not a miracle.
- A Disabled Apps tab in the settings app. Previously you’d have to scroll to the very end of the listing if all apps on your device in the settings app in order to see your disabled apps. Someone has been working to take that pain away.
- Enhanced photo daydream (random pictures based on your choice or info like time and weather that displays when your device is docked or idle).
- Fewer steps when setting up your Android device for the very first time. This may not be as effective as it sounds on paper since OEMs (and carriers where necessary) will add more login screens for services they partner with like Dropbox and their own user accounts.
- Bluetooth AVRCP 1.3 support to display song names on a car stereo.
That’s more like it. Those are the main features introduced in Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. Others like improved sensors to support more functionality like hardware geofencing (for optimizing power efficiency by moving location computations to hardware rather than performing them in Android software) for better location based services are more like fine tuning an already well-oiled engine for productivity since the overall result is a smoother and faster Android thanks to reduced touch latency, CPU input boost, hardware accelerated 2D rendering and improved syncing and buffering. No more stutter, no more lag. That will however vary depending on what skin your device manufacturer will cover your droid with.
Oh and I almost forgot an added functionality: the NSA just got a little cozier spying on you with this update (sic).