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Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean) launched today, alongside the new Nexus 7. Sadly, the latter is a much more interesting announcement — anyone expecting any major upgrades to the Android OS will be rather disappointed. Given the dramatic overhaul Apple gave iOS this summer with version 7, today’s announcement was pretty snooze-worthy — though many (myself included) would argue that Android is less in need of a UI overhaul than Apple’s somewhat aged OS.
Instead, 4.3 offers minor improvements to core parts of the OS — think of it as paving the way for a bigger overhaul in the future. What’s new? Bluetooth Smart technology is now baked in at OS level, which enables low energy Bluetooth — such as that used in Fitbit’s Flex activity band — which should enable longer-lasting Bluetooth devices. Graphics should also be boosted system-wide, both within apps and in animations, as support for OpenGL ES 3.0 is also included — Unity showed a demo of 3D objects casting shadows upon themselves and copious amounts of lens flare to demonstrate the new capabilities. There’s also a restricted profile feature — think Kid’s Corner on Windows Phone 8 — which allows parents to control what their children can view and access, with apps responding differently based on which user is accessing them, such as blocking in-app purchases for young hands.
The most noteworthy feature, though — and it’s not difficult to be noteworthy with this dreary bunch — is 1080p streaming in the Netflix app, something neither Apple nor Windows Phone can lay claim to. Ready to take advantage of the Nexus 7‘s 1080p screen, it’s enabled via a new set of DRM APIs which make the most of HD content, and should make spur-of-the-moment Netflix sessions even more enjoyable.
Android 4.3 will ship on the new Nexus 7, available on the 30, and will be available on the first-gen Nexus 7, Nexus 10, Nexus 4 and Galaxy Nexus via an over-the-air update today. Try not to get too excited.
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