Jelly Bean is only Android 4.1? How the innovation curve makes it easy to become jaded

Word that the next generation of Android, dubbed Jelly Bean, could really be Android 4.1 instead of a higher number such as Android 5.0, sounded a little depressing to me, since I'd been hoping for a major update from Google.

We'll know more probably next Wednesday when Google I/O opens in San Francisco and Google offers the latest info on Android. If you hadn't  heard, somebody reported on the Web that he found Jelly Bean linked to Android 4.1 while ordering a phone online, apparently. But we really don't know many details about what Jelly Bean will include.

My colleague, JR Raphael, offered the perspective that it would be hard to have another major release from Google right after Ice Cream Sandwich, Android 4.0, and he's probably right.  I admit that I'm still pretty dazzled by some of what ICS offers, including a data usage meter that is going to be the single most important tool for any smartphone owner going forward.

Once AT&T joins Verizon Wireless in setting up shared data plans,  I can see us all spending half our days looking at data usage tools and  worrying if the colleagues and family members in our shared data groups are watching out not to break the bank. In a future scenario, one member of the data sharing group may send out a nervous text message:

"Larry, watch out!! We are nearing our data limit!!! If you push us over our monthly limit, you are paying for the dang overage. Larry, are you listening??? You already owe us all about 1,000 beers, dude. Sheesh, dude."

Anyway, if Jelly Bean is JUST Android 4.1, then maybe I have to adjust my expectations a little.  It is probably an important release, to somebody anyway, and certainly the engineers who created it.  

June has been a month full of big wireless and mobile news, and this past week's Microsoft news was no exception.  Microsoft launched two Surface tablets branded with the Microsoft name, then two days later popped out eight features of the coming Windows Phone 8.  The possibility it might build its own phones (through a contract manufacturer) is tantalizing, a reminder that Google's Nexus concept (following Apple's lead) might really be the way to go.

As I was hearing the first of Microsoft's news in a Hollywood studio on Monday, I noticed how most of the room full of journalists was intent on typing away or shooting photos of the new Surface tablet being held by Steve Ballmer.  At one point, when the Microsoft crew held up a Surface tablet with a Touch Cover that doubles as a keyboard attached, some of Microsoft's plants in the audience clapped loudly, almost as a reminder to the quiet scribes that "this is a pretty big deal, dudes."  PR teams for all the vendors plant supporters in the halls where they make announcements all the time, but this time they caught my attention.  

Sure, there are tons of keybaord attachments for the iPad already, but this was Microsoft's first try, using Microsoft engineers and designers to do so for the first time, I realized.  At one point, reporters got tabletop demos , very short ones, from product managers and engineers/ designers who designed the magnesium Surface tablets and the Touch Cover and Type Cover that can be attached. These presenters all had prepared remarks, which they hurried through, taking very few questions as we got to hold the new devices momentarily.  Some of these presenters were very young, but they were from pretty diverse backgrounds with different accents. To a certain extent, they made me chuckle because they were trying so hard to show how magical their creations were, while sticking to the prepared script.  Some were sweating, others were laughing, pointing proudly to their inventions as if they were young puppies that had finally learned to take a command to sit.

They seemed so earnest.

Whether Microsoft succeeds with its tablets is not my point, because so much of consumer technology comes down to factors not aligned with good engineering.  Marketing, proper investment and timing are vital factors, as we know from following Apple and the iPad and iPhone.

Even if the WebOS has not gone anywhere, there were many dedicated Palm OS engineers who spent a lot of time on it. They probably aren't the types who need to be celebrated by the press or the stock market, but they have contributed to a vast and growing body of knowledge and intellectual property about wireless and mobile communications.  I could celebrate the early Motorola radio engineers too, and so many others.

I sometimes feel guilty writing stories on the faults of a phone or a vendor, because mostly the entire mobile computing industry is an amazing economic juggernaut, leading so many other sectors.  App stores, for example,  have launched careers for thousands of young programmers. 

It's easy to get overly accustomed to so much progress in mobile computing field.  It's all too convenient to become jaded  and show up at the next press announcement with attitude of "whatta 'ya got for me now?" as if sizing up a welterweight contender in the Saturday night fights at the local gym.

I want to be an aggressive reporter in pointing out problems with vendors and OS's and hardware, but sometimes I just have to pause and  reflect: What's happened in the last decade in mobile computing is nothing short of amazing.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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