Unlike previous versions of Android, 4.3 Jelly Bean leaked all over the place before the official announcement. A full system ROM was even extracted from a few internal Google devices and made available online. Even with all that information, Google still had a few surprises up its sleeve at the launch event yesterday. Android 4.3 might not be the biggest update, but it’s still something to look forward to.
With the first version of Jelly Bean, Google introduced us to Project Butter. This was a unified effort to streamline UI responsiveness with extra buffering and hardware acceleration. In 4.3, Project Butter has been enhanced with rewritten vsync timing, triple buffering, reduced touch latency, CPU input boost, and hardware-accelerated 2D rendering.
Android 4.3 includes support for OpenGL ES 3.0, which makes Android the first mobile platform to support this standard. Game developers working with the native development kit (not Java code) will be able to take advantage of many new features.
The new version of OpenGL allows apps to render higher-quality visuals and deeper textures on the same hardware. It should also make advanced native games run on a wider range of devices, assuming they are running Android 4.3 — which most won’t be.
Wireless and location
One of the earliest hints we had that the next version of Android was 4.3 and not 5.0 was a tiny leak about Bluetooth 4.0 support. Well, the newest Bluetooth standard is indeed included in Android 4.3. Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy (also known as Bluetooth Smart) allows devices to remain connected to a phone or tablet in a very-low-power state for better standby battery usage.
Some applications for Bluetooth 4.0 are fitness sensors and wearable devices like smartwatches. The new Bluetooth features also mean Google replaced the Bluetooth stack, which will be a huge relief to some users. Bluetooth in Android 4.2 was moderately broken on several devices. OEMs often replace the Bluetooth stack, so this doesn’t mark the first time Bluetooth Smart has been on Android; it’s just part of the core OS now.
A few aspects of location have gotten an update in 4.3 as well. As part of Google Play services, Google follows your device around. Location-tracking features should now be much easier on your battery life. WiFi location will also work differently in Android 4.3. Even if you have WiFi off, the device will still silently scan for local networks to help with location acquisition. That may sound like a waste of battery, but it’s actually more efficient when apps are calling for location data.
Better multi-user with restricted profiles
Google announced user profiles in version 4.2, but now it’s finally become a feature people are going to really want. Android 4.3 has added the ability to make restricted profiles for multi-user setups. So you’ll have “administrator” accounts that include full access to all the apps and data on the tablet, as well as accounts that have only a subset.
This is ideal for parents that want to pass off a tablet to the kids without worrying about all the crazy stuff on the internet or giant in-app purchase bills. You can designate a subset of apps for each profile, and even disable various Google services.
Developers can plug into the restrictions service to include app-specific restrictions in the main profile hub. For example, a video streaming app could include a setting to block age-restricted material based on the user profile. Apps can also simply refuse to run if they are installed, but exceed the maturity level set for the profile.