So, the notification bar on your Android smartphone keeps reminding you that you have a “System Update”. Do you keep wondering what it actually means and what changes will it bring about in your phone? It might just be a new update on your phone’s firmware to fix existing bugs or it might just be a new operating system update. While the apps can frequently update themselves with minor tweaks and new features, bigger stuff like operating systems can change the experience with your phone altogether.

OS Update

Usually a “big” software update means that the operating system on your phone needs to be updated. It usually starts showing up when the good folks at Google roll out a new update for Android. Since most manufacturers have their own tweaks for Android, it takes some time after an update release for the phone manufacturers to roll out the customized versions. The ones that get updated first are phones and tabs like the Google Galaxy Nexus smartphone and Google Nexus 7 tab.

The latest OS update by Android is the 4.1 update, nicknamed Jelly Bean. So if your phone and you are lucky enough to get the update some time soon, what tricks can you expect from it?

For starters, it is going to be super-fast. I have been trying out the plain vanilla version of JB on a Galaxy Nexus for some time, and I think it is safe to say that it is the smoothest version of Android ever. Android calls it the Project Butter.

The interface on the Jelly Bean OS quite literally flows like a smooth fluid. There are no lags between menus and home screens. The animations on the screen also work without any lag, and look quite appealing.

The best development that has emerged out of the Jelly Bean update is the Google Now feature. It takes the search experience to an all new level. You can just ask your phone, “What’s the weather like in Bombay” or “Where’s the nearest Subway?” and it will show up the relevant information and also “speak” the same. Although the feature got confused a bit with the Indian accent confirmed with me about what I really was asking for, it was pretty good for quick searches.

Another good update that comes with the Jelly Bean update is the NFC update. If your phone supports NFC, then the NFC compatibility increases.

You can now share what you share the most, photos and videos, via Android Beam. Before this update users could share only contacts, YouTube videos, directions etc via NFC. Although the Galaxy SIII already has this capability with the older 4.0 version of Android, it is possible to transfer only to another device supporting Samsung’s S-Beam.

There are more cool features that come along with the 4.1 update, like a more intuitive keyboard, resizable widgets, new look to the icons and the menus.

If you’re looking for this update, you might need to check with your vendor.

Bug Repairs

Nothing is perfect in this world. Not even your smartphone which at times seems like has a mind of its own. With every update that you apply to your phone, and with every new app that you download, the phone starts showing a few bugs and errors here and there.

And since vendors take in a lot of feedback from both consumers and developers (people who make the apps) these days, these bugs are dealt with in a short after being reported. Hence, it is quite important for you to update your phone if at times you find your phone acting a little strange with certain apps. For instance, your camera might not save the image in the right destination, or opening certain files might restart the phone altogether. Some third party apps might also have runtime errors. Frequent updates might solve these problems.

Drawbacks

Sometimes, updates themselves can lead to more bugs. If you are not sure what you are going to get as an update for your phone, it is always a good option to check online with your vendor’s website. The notification on the phone usually shows the update number, like 6.1.A.1.58 – you can just take this number and tally online about what you might get with this update. Some apps and software that you run now might not be compatible with the latest updates until the developers update those apps themselves. Tech bloggers are usually the first one to report for errors on new updates.

Some phones have big errors after receiving an update. For example, after installing a system update ( 6.1.A.0.452) on the Sony Xperia S, I was delighted that the phone got upgraded from Android v2.3 Gingerbread to v4.04 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). But the interface remained just the same, and I started getting problems that didn’t exist before. The battery, for example, drained out a little faster than before. And even when I had turned the auto screen-rotation to off, the home screen kept on rotating when I tilted the phone from portrait to landscape or vice versa. The SMS app also started becoming unresponsive after a while.

Whenever you get a new update notification, it is always good to check online with your phone’s manufacturer as to what tweaks would be made to your phone. There are many customers who are waiting with bated breaths to receive Jelly Bean or ICS updates on their smartphones. Some phones like the HTC One X already have heavily customized and extremely desirable Android interfaces. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how they perform after receiving something as sugary as the Jelly Bean.

Although it is unlikely that a sizeable chunk of the market would be getting Jelly Bean anytime soon, because manufacturers like Sony, HTC and LG are still rolling out ICS upgrades. There are websites which would offer you hacks and methods to install the upgrades, but if you love your phone it is advisable to always wait for the company-issue updates. Applying these hacks or unauthorised upgrades might spoil your phone forever, and also make you lose your warranty.

sabyasachi.b@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on August 21, 2012)
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