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Some Thoughts About Android 4.2 Jelly Bean

Android is starting to come together and I can't keep ignoring it

Google today announced Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, which represents a branding strategy shift that is perhaps as important—or even more important—than any new features it may include. To date, Google has given each Android version a unique—and usually cloying—name. But for the first time it’s sticking with the same name across multiple releases. This is smart.

Since its rather inauspicious beginnings—Android is every bit the “stolen product” that former Apple CEO Steve Jobs infamously complained about—Google’s mobile platform has grown by leaps and bounds. And while I’d be careful about calling it “innovative,” Android is certainly mature, full-featured and capable. It is very much what I’ve always described it as, the mobile versions of Windows. No wonder Jobs was so upset.

Almost a year ago, I publicly promised to spend more time looking at, and writing about, Android. The article in which I made this declaration, Embracing Android, was well-intentioned. But I had a hard time following through on it, because of my love of Windows Phone and my ambivalence about the Samsung Galaxy Nexus I was using at the time.

Throughout 2012, however, things started to change. That Nexus handset was finally updated to (the now initial version of) Jelly Bean, Android 4.1, which I like quite a bit. And Google released its first tablet, the 7-inch Nexus 7, which I described at the time as the first credible challenger to the iPad. And since then, Google has updated all of its Nexus products. There’s a new version of the handset, now called the Nexus 4, which I’ll be getting as soon as possible. (Like many, I was shut out when the first sales happened earlier today.) There’s a revised Nexus 7, which now comes in multiple versions. And coming soon, a true iPad competitor in the form of the new Nexus 10, a 10-inch tablet with a retina-busting 2560-by-1600 high-resolution display.

All of these devices can be found at Google Play. And when it comes to my coverage of Android going forward, most of it will be based on these devices, since they represent the “pure” Android experience, one that is not covered up by proprietary UIs found on many other Android devices.

But back to Jelly Bean, the point at which Android became truly interesting. (At least to me.)

Google initially announced Android 4.1 Jelly Bean at Google I/O back in June. From my perspective, this release consolidated some of the tablet-only work that went into the previous releases and made it, and more, available to all devices (and device types). Now called “the first version of Jelly Bean,” Android 4.1 introduced the impressive Google Now interface, improved notifications, automatically resizable widgets, and more. This new version, 4.2, adds support for multiple users (huge on tablets), wireless display, actionable notifications, NFC, and more.

But again, the big deal, I think, is that this release didn’t get another (silly) name. And while this won’t help with the very real issue of fragmentation—Android remains, and will remain, a world of multiple product versions out in the wild—it suggests that as Android matures, Google is starting to understand that the brand matters. And racing from brand to brand confuses customers, especially when many can’t even get the new version.

Last year, I promised to embrace Android. While I’m not sure I can do that wholeheartedly while Windows Phone is still kicking around, the market share numbers tell me I can’t keep ignoring it. With Jelly Bean, finally, keeping up on Android won’t be painful, and will in fact be quite all right.

The first step, of course, will be to examine how Windows users can best take advantage of this mobile platform. I’ll start there.

(If you’re an Android user, or a potential Android user, and have specific topics you’d like me to address going forward, please comment below and let me know.)

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