Flashback: Thanking Android Jelly Bean for the butter interface and multimedia improvements

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As Google prepares to remove Android Jelly Bean in the big farm in the cloud where it can play with alphabetically smaller versions, we thought it would be the right time to take a look at a well-lived life.

Jelly Bean first arrived in 2012 with android version 4.1, but the name will remain for two other minor versions (4.2 and 4.3). Nine years is a long time for an operating system, especially in the mobile world. Even a desktop operating system like Windows 10 will only last 10 years (it was introduced in 2015 and Microsoft will end extended support in 2025).

But before we talk about Jelly Bean, we need to set the scene. Android’s first interface was promising though rather clumsy, which led most manufacturers to dress it up – at the time, the skins were significantly better than the original UI. Android 2.3 Gingerbread (which we talked about in a previous article) was the last version before a major split.

Android 3.0 Honeycomb introduced Holo UI, but it was a version designed exclusively for tablets. A few months later, version 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich brought Holo to small phone screens. The ICS version of Holo was more minimalist, while Honeycomb had a futuristic twist.

Flashback : remercier Android Jelly Bean pour l'interface au beurre et les améliorations multimédia

Now that the appearance of the interface was set, it was time to make it flowing – smooth as butter. This work was done as part of the Butter project, of course. What it did was introduce triple buffering for the UI and apply vsync synchronization to all drawings and animations. This made everything work at the same pace as the screen refresh cycle, a standard 60 Hertz at the time. To help the hardware, JB has upgraded the processor to its highest performance mode by the time you hit the screen, so that it updates the screen as quickly as possible.

Another major improvement has been extensible notifications. This obviously allowed notifications to contain more content than before, but it also added a new feature: they could display up to three buttons, giving the user instant access to key actions. For example, a missed call notification would give you the option to call or send a message to the person who called you.

Jelly Bean has also retouched the home screen. It made it possible to preview the animated wallpapers before applying them and it introduced resizable widgets.

Notifications extensibles avec actions
Widgets redimensionnables qui se réorganiseraient automatiquement

Extensible notifications with actions • Resizable widgets that would automatically rearrange

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

Beam was dropped with Android 10 and there is a battle for his throne. Google is considering its Fast Share as the replacement, but it’s not quite ready yet. For example, you can’t use it to share a file with a Windows or ChromeOS computer. Recently, a group of smartphone manufacturers has regrouped in the mutual transfer alternative alliance, to unify the internal solutions they have developed separately.

Flashback : remercier Android Jelly Bean pour l'interface au beurre et les améliorations multimédia

Smart app updates have allowed the Play Store to provide delta updates, that is, to transfer only the bits that have changed between versions, instead of repeating the data that the phone already has. On average (according to Google’s calculations), this update reduced to 1/3 of a full download. Later this year, Google will make a major change in the way it works by requiring app bundles to be uploaded to the Play Store instead of APKs. These can reduce even the initial download of an app by skipping unnecessary parts on a particular device.

Another change was to encrypt the assets of paid apps using device-specific keys. This made it more difficult, for example, to copy a game from one device to another.

Jelly Bean also significantly improved audio support on Android, which lagged behind iOS. It added support for multichannel audio via HDMI ports, the AAC codec also became supported by default (including AAC 5.1 audio). Space-free playback made phones much better music players and the Media Router button offered a standardized way to direct audio to Bluetooth headphones or receivers. This version also included support for USB audio, which allowed external DACs to be plugged in.

All this and much more came with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. It was followed by version 4.2 a few months later. It improved on Project Butter with a faster hardware-accelerated 2D rendering engine, which took advantage of the GPU.

4.2 also introduced lock screen widgets, which were popular for a while, but have since fallen into disuse. Daydream, an interactive screensaver mode was also introduced and changed (the name was reused for Google’s now-defunct virtual reality platform).

Widgets d'écran de verrouillage
Projet Daydream (économiseur d'écran)

Lock screen widgets • Daydream project (screensaver)

Some features remained – 4.2 brought appropriate external display support. Previous versions could only reflect the display, the second iteration of JB allowed applications to manage each view separately. This is the basis of the desktop modes we see today. Wireless displays were also supported, using the Miracast standard. The sound has been further improved with support for low-latency audio.

Support d'affichage externe avec mode de présentation
External display medium with presentation mode

The entire Bluetooth stack has been replaced, abandoning BlueZ in favor of an open source project co-developed by Google and Broadcom. This release introduced many other connectivity and security enhancements.

Nouvelle pile Bluetooth
New Bluetooth stack

4.2 improved the camera with HDR support, a first step in computer photography, which would become the most important feature of modern smartphone cameras (more important than even the sensor and lens).

The latest version of Jelly Bean, Android 4.3, arrived in 2013. It added support for Bluetooth Low Energy and the 1.3 audio/video remote control profile. In addition, the graphics stack has been improved with support for OpenGL ES 3.0.

Perhaps the most important of all was the addition of emoji support. These were fairly simple black and white emojis (the color was added with v4.4), but you can now switch the keyboard to emoji mode and avoid annoying letters and words in your posts. You can see the Jelly Bean emojis here.

Flashback : remercier Android Jelly Bean pour l'interface au beurre et les améliorations multimédia

There have been other changes as well. For example, v4.3 included a VP8 encoder as Google attempted to move away from patent-protected formats. In addition, the three incarnations of Jelly Bean have added incremental improvements to right-to-left (RTL) languages.

Prise en charge RTL améliorée pour l'interface et la saisie de texte
Improved RTL support for interface and text input

Google stopped publishing distribution numbers for Android versions some time ago, but by 2019, all three versions of Jelly Bean had fallen to about 3% market share. The company said that they now accounted for less than 1%, which is why it decided to stop updating Play services for these older versions.

Distribution de la version Android mi-2019
Distribution of the Android version mid-2019

Here are some anecdotes – Jelly Bean was the latest version of Android to reach 50% market share. Despite Google’s hard work to simplify the update process for manufacturers, no Android version since JB has managed to get a majority share.

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

Do you still have a functional Jelly Bean device? Drop a line in the comments to tell us what it is and what you’re using it for – and maybe consider removing it or at least flashing a newer version of Android.

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