Following its total re-vamp in Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Google has spent the past six months fine-tuning the stock Android launcher in version 4.1, Jelly Bean. A couple of changes to the way icons and widgets are added and managed, in addition to some serious speed improvements, make for a much more usable launcher in the new version of Android.
Firstly, home screen elements now intelligently move and resize each other to fit into the allocated space on the home screen. For example, if there's a stray icon in the way of a large widget you want to place down, you're no longer required to move or delete it before doing so. Instead, the Jelly Bean launcher lets you bump existing elements out of the way as you drag new stuff onto the screen. (You'll know if something's about to be moved, as it'll wiggle ever so slightly in its new position.) Similarly, you can also budge icons and widgets around when resizing existing stuff, and when you're moving a large widget into a smaller space, it'll shrink down to fit the available home screen real estate.
Jelly Bean also introduces a neat new gesture for removing unwanted icons and widgets from your home screens -- when you've got them selected by long pressing, you can throw them away by flinging quickly towards the edge of the screen.
The second big launcher change in Jelly Bean is probably the most noticeable -- the improvement in speed, as part of what Google's dubbed "Project Butter". This is the overarching name for all the different techniques that've been employed to improve perceived performance by cutting down on lag and stuttery transition animations, and the impact on the launcher is dramatic to say the least. The 3D app drawer animation, previously prone to lag in ICS, is silky smooth in Jelly Bean. And live wallpapers which slowed things to a crawl on Android 4.0 now glide along effortlessly.
There's a redesigned Google search bar, of course, but this functions just as it does in ICS, launching you into either voice search or Google search. The app behind this has changed too in Jelly Bean, but we'll show off those changes in a future article.
For a complete walkthrough of the new and improved Android 4.1 Jelly Bean launcher on the Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 7, check out our hands-on video after the break. And be sure to check out our other Jelly Bean feature showcases if you haven't already.