June 27, 2012, 2:05 PM — Google has taken the wraps off the next version of its Android operating system, known as Jelly Bean, which adds improvements to search, voice typing and notifications.
Jelly Bean, also known as Android 4.1, will be the successor to the current Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android, and will start to be pushed out to some Android phones next month, Google said at its I/O conference for developers Wednesday in San Francisco.
A significant new feature is Google Now, which uses a person's location, search history and calendar entries to offer more pertinent search results, Google said. Google Now appears to basically turn Android into a personal assistant for a user's life.
For example, Google Now learns roughly when a person commutes to work and what route they take. It will then check traffic reports each morning and recommend a faster route when there's one available.
When a user is near a bus stop or train station, Google Now will tell users what time the next bus or train is arriving. And if a user searches for a flight, Google will remember that and push out notifications if the flight is delayed.
Google Now can show information about what restaurants and bars are nearby as a user walks down a street. And in a restaurant, it will even recommend what the most popular dishes are.
Google didn't go into a lot of detail about how it works; presumably it uses information from existing online services such as restaurant reviews. Allowing Google Now to access a person's location, search and calendar entries is optional, Google executives stressed, but it's bound to make some users concerned about privacy.
Jelly Bean is Google's attempt to continue the momentum behind Android. The OS had been activated in 100 million devices at this time last year; now the figure is up to 400 million, Google said. A million new Android devices are activated each day, it said, or 12 per second.
Jelly Bean also improves the voice typing function in Android, which lets users type messages and perform searches by speaking into the phone. In Ice Cream Sandwich, voice typing works only when users are online, but for Jelly Bean, Google "shrank" the speech recognition software that runs on the servers in its data center, so that it will fit into the device itself. So users will be able to type using their voice when they're offline.
Offline voice typing will be available initially for U.S. English and will be offered in other languages "soon" according to Google.