Flashback: thanks to Android Jelly Bean for the improved interface and multimedia

As Google prepares to roll back Android Jelly Bean to a fantastic farm in the cloud where it can play with a smaller version of the alphabet, we think this would be a great time to look back at a life that is living well.

Jelly Bean first arrived in 2012 with Android version 4.1, but its name will survive for two more minor releases (4.2 and 4.3). Nine years is a long time for operating systems, especially in the mobile world. Even desktop OSes like Windows 10 will last only for 10 years (it was introduced in 2015 and Microsoft will end advanced support in 2025).

Flashback: thanks to Android Jelly Bean for the improved interface and multimedia

But before we talk about Jelly Bean, we have to make the stage. Android’s early interface was promising if a bit clumsy, which caused most makers to dry it out – back then the skin looked better than the stock UI. Android 2.3 Gingerbread (which we discussed in a previous installment) was the last version before the big split.

Android 3.0 Honeycomb introduces the Holo UI, but it’s a version made specifically for tablets. A few months later version 4.0 of Ice Cream Sandwich brought the Holo to a smaller phone display. The ICS Holo version is more minimalist, while the Honeycomb has a touch of futuristic flair.

Flashback: thanks to Android Jelly Bean for the improved interface and multimedia

Now that the look of the interface is complete, it’s time to make it run smoothly – as smooth as butter. This work was done under Project Butter, of course. What it does is introduce triple buffering to the UI and apply vsync timing to all images and animations. This made everything run in a locked level with a screen refresh cycle, 60 Hertz standard at the time. To help the hardware, JB puts the CPU into highest performance mode the moment you touch the display, so it will update the screen as soon as possible.

The other major improvement is expandable notifications. This allows notifications to store more content than ever before, obviously, but it adds new features as well – they can display up to three buttons, giving users quick access to key actions. For example, a missed call notification will give you the option to call or send a message to the person calling you.

Jelly Bean also touches the home screen. This allows the live wallpaper to be previewed before using it and it introduces widgets that can be resized.

Notifications that can be expanded with actions
Reorderable widgets that will be rearranged automatically

Expandable notifications with actions • Rearrable widgets that will be rearranged automatically

Android Beam was introduced with Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0, but this early version only used NFC to send links – to websites and even apps (with links pointing to the Play Store). Jelly Bean adds Bluetooth to the equation, allowing you to share photos, videos and other files as well.

Beam is stopped with Android 10 and there is a battle for the throne. Google is looking at Fast Share as a replacement, but it’s not ready yet. For example, you can’t use it to share files with Windows or ChromeOS computers. Recently, a group of smartphone makers have joined the alternative Mutual Transfer Alliance, to consolidate internal solutions that they develop separately.

Flashback: thanks to Android Jelly Bean for the improved interface and multimedia

Smart Apps updates allow the Play Store to deliver delta updates, which are simply moving bits that change between versions, rather than repeating data that the phone already has. On average (based on Google calculations) this reduction is updated to 1/3 of full downloads. Later this year Google will make a big change in the way this works by requiring the App Bundle to be uploaded to the Play Store instead of the APK. This can shrink even the initial download of the app by skipping unnecessary sections on certain devices.

Another change is to encrypt paid app assets using device -specific keys. This makes it difficult, for example, to copy games from one device to another.

Jelly Bean also improves audio support on Android which lags far behind iOS. This adds support for multichannel audio via the HDMI port, also the AAC codec becomes supported by default (including AAC 5.1 audio). Gapeless playback makes the phone a much better music player and the Media Router button provides a standard way to direct audio to headphones or to a Bluetooth receiver. This version also includes support for USB Audio, which allows an external DAC to be installed.

All this and more comes with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. It was followed by version 4.2 a few months later. It improves on Project Butter with a hardware -accelerated 2D renderer, which takes advantage of the GPU.

4.2 also introduced a lock screen widget, which has been popular for a while, but has been unpopular ever since. Daydream, an interactive screensaver mode was also introduced and changes were dropped (the name was reused for Google’s now defunct VR platform).

Lock screen widget
Project Imagination (screensaver)

Lock screen widget • Project Daydream (screensaver)

Some features remain – 4.2 brings proper external display support. The previous version could only visualize the display, the second iteration of JB allowed the app to handle each display separately. This is the basis of the desktop mode we see today. Wireless displays are also supported, using the Miracast standard. Sound is enhanced with support for low latency audio.

External display support with presentation mode
External display support with presentation mode

The entire Bluetooth stack changed, dropping BlueZ in favor of an open source project developed jointly by Google and Broadcom. This version introduces many more improvements on connectivity and security.

New Bluetooth stack
New Bluetooth stack

4.2 enhances the camera with HDR support, an early step in computational photography, which will be the most important feature of modern smartphone cameras (more important than sensors and lenses).

The last version of Jelly Bean, Android 4.3 arrived in 2013. It added support for Bluetooth Low Energy and Audio / Video Remote Control Profile 1.3. Also, the graphics stack is improved with OpenGL ES 3.0 support.

Perhaps most important is the addition of emoji support. The black-and-white emoji is pretty clear (color added with v4.4), but you can now switch the keyboard to emoji mode and avoid letters and words in your messages. You can see the Jelly Bean emoji here.

Flashback: thanks to Android Jelly Bean for the improved interface and multimedia

There are other changes as well. For example, v4.3 included the VP8 encoder because Google tried to stay away from patent -burdened formats. Also, all three Jelly Bean incarnations add additional enhancements to the Right-To-Left (RTL) language.

Improved RTL support for interface and text input
Improved RTL support for interface and text input

Google stopped publishing distribution numbers of Android versions some time ago, but by 2019 the third version of Jelly Bean had fallen to around 3% market share. The company says that they now account for less than 1%, which is why it decided to stop updating Play Services for older versions.

Distribution of Android version in mid -2019
Distribution of Android version in mid -2019

Here’s a bit of a trivia – Jelly Bean is the latest version of Android to reach a 50%market share. Despite Google’s hard work in simplifying the update process for its makers, there is no Android version as JB manages to achieve the most parts.

However, devices running Jelly Bean can continue to work and even download apps from the Play Store, though they won’t see many (if any) updates for those apps.

Do you still have a working Jelly Bean device? Enter a comment line to tell us what it is and what you’re using – and maybe consider stopping it or at least rolling out a newer version of Android.

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