Well that was lucky. A couple of weeks after I pick up a Google Nexus and Jelly Bean arrives on only this phone. It comes with the promise of a tweaked notifications system which lets you use two fingers to expand a particular notification. Google Now is able to offer the illusion of being self-aware by serving up information based on your current locations and perhaps more worryingly, your behavior. And of course performance is greatly improved with 'Project Butter' which can offer 60 fps for your normal Android use, just like the iPhone. It sounds incremental, but it is also vital and so I will look at each in turn. For those who are bemoaning the lack of change in iOS 6, I should say that Jelly Bean is identical visually to Ice Cream Sandwich and that for 99% of people, the differences will likely not even be noticeable.
The changes here are hard to fathom at first glance. Just like it is difficult to explain why iOS feels so smooth, it is also difficult to find words to describe why Jelly Bean is smoother than Ice Cream Sandwich. You don't notice it as such, it just happens in front of you and eventually you realise that the small stutters that have long been inherent in Android have gone. It isn't exactly the same feeling as iOS because there are no bounces as you reach the end of a list, there is no 'exact' finger response, but it is an near to iOS as you can get without 100% replicating it. As I said, it is hard to explain, but for me Windows Phone and iOS still feel smoother, but the margins here are too small to register unless you really think about it.
Of course it could all be an illusion as my mind sees that I am using Android which has never offered such smoothness in daily use. Give me a few days and I will come back to this topic because it's all too new to make an informed judgement. I can, however, say that it is fast, very fast.
Google does notifications right in Android and Apple most certainly does not in iOS. I can't remember the last time I used the iOS notifications bar and have no idea what is in it. There are no visual cues that an email, text or calendar entry is in there. There are badges on the icons and so I naturally tap the icons to see what is inside. Apple needs to offer users the choice of having small icons in the status bar to prompt them. This would make perfect sense if such an integral part of iOS is to be used properly because as it stands it all feels disconnected.
Android, on the other hand, makes much better use of notifications and in Jelly Bean this is taken further. The ability to open up notifications to see a list of emails or tweets makes a lot of sense. You can tap to enter the app, open up the notification to get a quick look when in a hurry or simply dismiss them after you have digested the summary information in each. Could that work any more flexibly and cater for every type of user if it tried? Seriously, this simple change makes an already brilliant system even better and I find myself using it more and more as each day passes.
Nothing to report on this yet except to say that the thought of my phone being able to know what I want based on my calendar entries, location and where I travel regularly scares the crap out of me and amazes me at the same time.
Offline Google Maps is great, but I travel too much to not need a full navigator (hurry up TomTom!). The word correction and spelling appear to be much improved which is good news because this has always frustrated me in the past. The smart app updates only update what has changed which should speed up updates and save some data usage in the long run. And then there is offline speech recognition which I also need more time with. No more waiting for a server to respond, or not respond at all, and a much quicker and more useful setup.
It's all good
It really is all good. Google has focused on what needed changing and jumped ahead of the competition in certain areas. These are not the usual frills that tends to come out in the Android world, the kind of features that grab headlines and have no practical use. These are genuinely useful and are a direct stab at iOS and Apple. The thing is that Apple is looking somewhat lackluster at the moment and needs to be very, very careful...
UPDATE: Google has now posted a full changelog. As you can see, I have quite a lot more to explore.