What Is Android Jelly Bean?

Android 4.1

A Nexus 7 tablet is shown at the Google Developers Conference running the latest Android Jelly Bean OS.
Mathew Sumner/Stringer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Android's Operating System, Android 4.1

All of the major Android updates have had dessert-themed code names following in alphabetical order. Jelly Bean follows Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, KitKat, Lollipop, and Marshmallow. 

So what did Jelly Bean bring to the table?

Project Butter

Project Butter wasn't a new app. It was a new way to iron out the problems with slow displays in some Android phones and tablets.

new Nexus 7 screamed through anything (at the time) because it had a quad-core processor in it and powered through things with twice the processing speed.  

Project Butter was designed to make graphics look "smooth as butter." There were a few changes in how graphics display. Opening and closing an app will get a zooming action in Jelly Bean where they got a pinching action in Ice Cream Sandwich, but the average user is just going to notice the speed and smoothness of the display. Part of this is accomplished by prioritizing processing power whenever you're touching the screen and lowering it when you're not.  

Better Keyboard Predictions

Android Jelly Bean adds smarter text prediction that can learn from your typing habits and starts to predict the next word before you've even typed it. This function is either pretty amazing or really creepy evidence of Google mind reading skills.

Useful Notifications

Jelly Bean introduced the alert "shade" screen.

Jelly Bean allows you to do things like responding to a calendar event reminder with a reply to all attendees that you're running late or instantly call someone back when you miss a call. You can also expand your email alerts to see whether or not it's an important message rather than just seeing an alert that you've got mail.

Jelly Bean shade notifications initially only worked with Google apps.

Improved Photos 

Instead of having to launch a separate gallery app from the camera app to sort through your photos (and waiting, waiting, waiting for the app to load), Jelly Bean adds easier editing and sorting capabilities. Now you shoot photos and can quickly switch between camera and filmstrip view to go through your footage.

Widgets Are Smarter

Ok, the resizable widgets are pretty nice, but it's still too easy to be told that there's not enough room because the default size for your widget is too big. Jelly Bean introduced widgets that automatically shrink down to fit the available space if they can, and when you drag around a widget, the other widgets move to get out of the way just like text reflowing around graphics in a word processor. 

Improved Accessibility Features

Jelly Bean introduced better screen reading and gesture controls for accessibility. 

Android Beam

This is Google's version of the Bump app. Two phones with NFC connections can send each other apps, videos, websites and more by tapping phones together. This is a cool feature, but it required two NFC phones running Jelly Bean.

Google Now

Google Now was likely the coolest part of the Jelly Bean experience.

Remember how we all suspect Google knows everything about us? Now is Google's chance to show us just how much. Google Now shows the weather when you leave for work, the train schedule when you're standing on the subway platform, the score of the game you didn't even explicitly tell it you were interested in seeing, and the traffic conditions for your drive home from work. That's pretty awesome, and that's also dangerously close to creepy. Let's hope Google does this so seamlessly that it all feels helpful and not stalkerish.