updated 04:01 pm EDT, Wed June 27, 2012
Location-aware search, Project Butter main changes
Google has revealed changes made in Android 4.1, the next iteration of the mobile operating system. Jelly Bean is seen as less of a major leap than expected, however it still provides some needed improvements. In a nod to Siri, Google has expanded Android's web search to answer spoken questions with its own voice, now powered by Knowledge Graph. Dictation, meanwhile, can now function offline.
In a feature called Google Now, saved searches can personalize future results, and location monitoring can lead it to push useful data. For example, if it knows you're taking a flight and are at an airport, it can pass word of flight delays; at a bus stop, it might say when the next bus is due. Google Now can also push updates on sports teams in search history if they are playing, or suggest leaving a location if it can tell that you might be late for an appointment booked into the calendar.
Possibly the most important new aspect is Project Butter, an effort to improve response times and performance in general. A 16ms v-sync heartbeat throughout the drawing and animation system forces everything to be kept synchronized, lowering touch input lag, and also allowing the Android framework to anticipate where a user's finger will be at the time of screen refresh. A CPU boost is applied at touch events after a period of inactivity to avoid latency, and the addition of triple buffering in the graphics pipeline permits more consistent rendering of animations.
The homescreen has had some adjustments too, with dynamically resizing widgets automatically pushing app icons to the sides; widgets can be removed by flicking them offscreen. Notification updates allow users to return calls from within the shade, as well as view multiple emails without having to open a related app. Apps can now use expanded notifications with custom controls.
Google hopes to start rolling out over-the-air updates to the Galaxy Nexus, Motorola Xoom, and Nexus S in mid-July.