Jelly Bean 4.3: An Incremental Update

We’ve all been awaiting Key Lime Pie with baited breath, but Google’s once again surprised us with an incremental update to Android. 4.3, which is still called Jelly Bean and largely keeps the same interface we’ve all grown to know and love.

That being said, while 4.3 is an incremental update, it’s also an important one. Google’s bringing some much-needed features to Android that will make life easier for both OEMs like Samsung and HTC as well as average users. Read on to find out about some of the features that most excite us about Android 4.3.

Enhanced Camera

Jelly Bean 4.2 introduced Photo Sphere, but even though my Nexus 4 took pretty good (surprisingly good, actually) photos, I never liked the Photo Sphere feature. Android’s stitching wasn’t that impressive to me; I preferred the panorama feature on my iPhone 5.

Threading images isn’t perfect with the camera update in 4.3, but the exposure is better off than it used to be. I wouldn’t say Photo Sphere is the killer feature Google wants it to be, but 4.3 takes a few more steps towards that.

The Camera app keeps getting hairs better.

The Camera app keeps getting hairs better.

Finally, a much-needed feature — if you ask me — has been added. You can now set your Shutter button to be a volume rocker. Some third-party skins already have this option, and the iPhone has had it for a while, so it’s a relief to finally see Google catching up here.

Better Bluetooth

While Smart Ready Support for Bluetooth is hacked on by manufacturers like Samsung, Google is finally supporting it within the operating system. The long and short of this is pretty simple: Bluetooth Low Energy enables wearable technology like smart watches or Fitbits to remain connected with your device and continuously transmit information.

Currently, Fitbit is only supported on select Android devices — namely, the ones from manufacturers who have Smart Ready Support for Bluetooth built into their customized skins. Now, it hopefully won’t be long before Fitbit or smart watch integration is available for everybody.

Of course, we’re talking already about the Fitbits and I’m sure everybody is thinking about Pebble compatibility. But Google’s really doing this to ensure all future devices can interact with Android devices. I’m sure Google suspects, just like us, that wearable technology is going to take off in the next year.

In the bigger picture though, Smart Ready Support for Bluetooth ensures support for another little project called Google Glass.

Restricted Profiles

I know a lot of people with iPads who are clamouring for a feature like this. Restricted user profiles make Android tablets a little more family-friendly. While it’s been possible to set up user profiles for a while now, this allows users to create separate environments for each user with restrictions on activity in place.

Setting up a guest account was easy and took me all of two minutes.

Setting up a guest account was easy and took me all of two minutes.

So if you don’t want your child to download paid apps, you can do that. If you want to avoid in-app purchases, go ahead. In some ways, it’s becoming very similar to creating multiple accounts on your PC — which has many of us breathing a sigh of relief.

Google offers little more detail about how this works, but we know it’s possible to have entirely different environments with different apps, widgets and screen savers for each user. The owner of the tablet can control what’s accessible from a new profile, and “access to the owner’s account is disabled by default.”

More Useful Notifications

Notifications in Android are great, and they’re always a few step ahead of the conversations. With 4.3, the notifications are becoming a bit more useful — yet again.

Notifications are getting more advanced, but with most notifications (like email), you won't notice anything that wasn't there before.

Notifications are getting more advanced, but with most notifications (like email), you won’t notice anything that wasn’t there before.

If you have an event coming up in your calendar with an attached address, you’re now able to open the Maps app straight from the notifications. Of course, you can still snooze the event from the lock screen, but this feature makes it even easier to open relevant apps straight from the lock screen without going through multiple steps.

Keyboard and Dialpad Improvements

We’re admittedly irrationally excited about this here at Android.AppStorm, but it’s been a long time coming.

The stock keyboard is closer in experience to Swype, and Emoji is finally available in the Settings.

The stock keyboard is closer in experience to Swype, and Emoji is finally available in the Settings.

Jelly Bean has brought some much-needed keyboard improvements, and the stock Google keyboard has become one of the best available. But it was still missing a couple of things. This changes that. The keyboard is a little more intuitive, gesture typing is that much better and Emoji can now be turned on in the settings.

I call for pizza delivery a lot, as you can see with Google's autofill, which is why I have a gym membership.

I call for pizza delivery a lot, as you can see with Google’s autofill, which is why I have a gym membership.

As well, the Dialpad now has autocomplete as well. Start typing a number and Google will bring up all the results in your contacts so you can quickly select somebody. Google’s smart about it, though, and will display your contacts in a ranking based on call frequency.

What’s Missing?

At this point, Jelly Bean might be as advanced as it’s going to be until we get Key Lime Pie. The thing is, it’s not that Jelly Bean 4.3 is bad or disappointing — it’s just that some of us were admittedly hoping for something more exciting. There are a few more things I want to note about 4.3.

The first is simply that restricted profiles are only available on tablets. This is reportedly because Google hasn’t figured out a way to make profiles work on a smartphone. (Read: Google doesn’t know why people would want to share smartphones and is facing pressure from OEMs who see multiple user profiles on smartphones as lost revenue.)

The second thing is that, despite having user profiles, Android still doesn’t have a Work mode and a Personal mode. I’m not a fan of BlackBerry 10, so say what you will about it, but you can’t deny the ability to have different “user profiles” of sorts for work and for play is enticing. I could use something like that in my day-to-day life, and I’m surprised Google hasn’t figure it out yet.

The Verdict

I’m mostly pleased with the 4.3 update. It’s a no-brainer install, one that has most people with stock Android smashing the Check Now button in the Updates every few hours. But it’s also a safe update. It’s not treading any really new ground, but filling up all the holes in Jelly Bean’s resumé. And if we’re honest, it’s got one big thing going against it: it doesn’t taste like Key Lime Pie.