Android 4.1, a.k.a. Jelly Bean, is the best version of Google's smartphone operating system yet, but most users won't see it for at least six months.
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Google showed off Android 4.1--code name Jelly Bean--at its Google I/O developer conference in San Francisco last week. By all counts, the new platform is sure to be a hit with smartphone users around the globe--eventually. Though some existing devices will be able to update as soon as this month, the majority of today's Android smartphones will likely never get it. Here's why.
First, what does Jelly Bean bring to the table? In short, vastly improved performance, new notification features, better voice dictation and search, faster camera software, a better predictive keyboard, NFC support for Android Beam, and a revised YouTube app with Wi-Fi caching. Are these new features really all that exciting? After spending nearly a week with the Galaxy Nexus and the Nexus 7, yes, they really, really are.
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean will be available for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Nexus S smartphones first. Though the official updates are being pushed out later this month, unofficial builds already have leaked that work fairly well. The Nexus 7 tablet, made by Asus, will ship with Android 4.1 on board when it goes on sale in a few weeks.
Few other smartphone makers have come forward to discuss Android 4.1 updates yet. Only HTC and Samsung have even acknowledged Android 4.1.
HTC said: "We are excited about Android Jelly Bean and are planning to support it across a variety of our devices. We are reviewing the software to determine our upgrade plans and schedule, so please stay tuned for more updates on specific device upgrade plans."
Samsung said: "Samsung will soon announce which additional devices are eligible for the Jelly Bean update. We are pleased that Google will be bringing Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Nexus S customers the first experiences of Jelly Bean on a handheld device."
Google's own hardware division, Motorola, has been mum on the subject. In fact, Motorola was entirely absent from Google I/O last week. It wasn't mentioned once.
Where does this leave today's Android smartphones and Jelly Bean? The big problem is that fewer than 10% of all Android devices have been updated to Android 4.0 (a.k.a. Ice Cream Sandwich), which was announced in October 2011 and released to device makers in November 2011. Here we are eight months later and the vast bulk of devices are still running older versions of Android--2.3, 2.2, 2.1, and so on. How can they ever catch up? They won't.
The only devices likely to receive Android 4.1 updates are those that ship with Android 4.0 to start with. At the moment, that's a relatively small number of phones, including the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy S III; the HTC One X, One V, and One S; and a handful of others. Though Google hasn't said that leaping from Android 2.3 to Android 4.1 is out of the question, the chances of it happening in significant numbers has to be about zero.
The other big reason Android owners will need to wait for Jelly Bean? Google isn't giving the base code to device makers until later this month. We can see how few 4.0 devices have reached the market eight months after Ice Cream Sandwich was released to OEMs. OEMs won't be able to start making Android 4.1 products until later this month at the earliest.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. If you are serious about upgrading to the newest version of Android as soon as possible, don't wait for a system update. Go out and buy a device running the version you want. At the moment, that means the Galaxy Nexus, which you can snag from the Google Play Store for $349 unlocked.
When you consider the Galaxy Nexus will be one of the only Android 4.1 devices available for the next six or so months, $349 is a relative bargain.
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