Skip to main content

Jelly Bean feature: A buttery new home screen launcher

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.

Alex Dobie
Executive Editor

Alex was with Android Central for over a decade, producing written and video content for the site, and served as global Executive Editor from 2016 to 2022.

  • Project Butter is probably the most exciting development in JellyBean for me. I can't wait to get my grubby paws on the Nexus 7.
  • FINALLY new ways for me to tinker with my home-screen!
  • I agree. I've been an iPhone user for a long time. Still couldn't stand ICS due to the lag. As soon as Google showed off Jelly Bean? Ordered a Galaxy Nexus. Google has won me over.
  • some live wallpapers still stutter in jelly bean. the day where "circuitry" is "butter" will be a glorious, glorious day.
  • "Project butter" mostly apply to UI rendering also it does not guerranty that there won't be any lag, it's just reduce possibility
  • I think it's really funny that people have been saying ICS is smooth as butter since it was announced. That is until Jelly Bean was announced. Now ICS is a choppy, stuttery, lagging pile of trash...
  • ICS is by no means is very choppy, stuttery, or laggy now that JB is out. ICS simply had occasions where you could notice some lag, but the great thing now is that everything glides across the screen effortlessly! and its quite amazing.
  • Are you kidding? ICS makes me feel like I am working in 2011. Are you even old enough to remember what that was like?
  • ICS has always been really smooth, at least from my experience. Project butter is just that buttery icing we all love.
  • I think you three above this comment don't understand what he was getting at, he is laughing at how people lauded over ICS, but now that JB has come out people have mostly been saying how crap it is, when ICS is just as good as it was before, just JB is better in the enhanced ways.
  • how about apps, ie Flipboard? are app transitions also buttery smooth?
  • most apps are also buttery, but i have found some to be just as stuttery if not more so than before. however i think that might just be down to the app not being properly optimized or coded for jelly bean.
  • can you remove the Google Search Bar and free up the real estate behind it in Jelly Bean? right now we are forced to use Nova Launcher to do this and it should be an option in stock. don't force the Search Bar down my throat on the Home Screen!
  • Stock launcher has that eyesore stabbing your pupils. Nova Launcher runs like butter on Jelly Bean Galaxy Nexus without the bleeding eyeballs.
  • I wonder how JB will perform on the S3, ICS is quite smooth on the stock S3 (int) already this would really make it superfast!
  • Project Butter is the BEST thing to happen to my Galaxy Nexus.The smoothness is unreal, especially in the browser. Its defenitly smoother than my HTC One X which says a lot considering the GNEX doesnt have the best CPU/GPU out there. Im happily staying with this until a future Nexus sways me away
  • This will most likely render Nova Launcher useless. Which is a shame because nova brings a lot of great features to ICS. However project butter will outweigh the added options.
  • Can anyone confirm that Project Butter only supports the Stock Launcher? It felt incredibly fast and smooth, then once I loaded Nova Launcher I didn't feel a huge difference from ICS. I am using transition animations and transition and scrolling speeds are set to "Nova".
  • project butter is os wide, and not limited to one app.
  • any chance that Verizon/Motorola will allow auto-rotate on the home screen with this release?
  • OK Alex.. Total noob question coming from someone about to make the transit from iOS to Android. I'm SO impressed with JB especially Project Butter and the amazing Google Voice Search. Am a die-hard ATT customer and since we have LTE here in the Bay area, I'd like to be able to access the blazing data speeds, which means investing $350 in a GNex isn't a great move. I like the GS3 but honestly, it's not that much more impressive to me than the Skyrocket, which as you know, has had a ton of development done already. So I'm wondering what you think the likelihood of a JB ROM that I might use with a Skyrocket.. Thanks.
  • I have the HOX on AT&T here in San Francisco. I previously owned the yakju Galaxy Nexus and loved it. Unfortunately, upon getting the HOX, there was no need for the GN. LTE is the one killer feature of Android, in my opinion. The HOX is an extremely capable device, and I've been able to do and accomplish some great things with the Camera. In most parts of San Francisco, I'm easily getting 30-40Mbps. This is awesome. I wouldn't get the GS3/Skyrocket/GS2 unless you're hellbent on customization. Most ROMs won't have JB until CM10 starts getting alphas.
  • The GS3 was JUST released and it already has about 3+ ROMs out there. If you think the Skyrocket was well supported why wouldn't the GS3 when they released basically the exact same phone across 5 carriers in the US alone. Support and Development is going to be huge. And with a newer chip architecture and 2GB of RAM there's really no comparison.
  • Yes, I had a Skyrocket and now own a GS3. I don't really believe anyone anyone using both that would say the GS3 is not a big improvement. No lag, better battery, larger screen.
    I'll take that!
  • My favorite old/new(so glad Google re-implemented it) feature of 4.1 is the fact that I can long press the home key or simply slide my finger from the bottom up over the navigation bar to launch Google search from anywhere. Oh and there's Google Now, predicted typing,offline voice typing and all the minor tweaks that just make the UI a million times better than the iPhony... After a few day's to test drive 4.1 I am back to unrooted 4.0.4 and putting in the long wait for Verizon to drop an update. Is anyone else worried At&t and Verizon are not going to give us Jelly Bean I mean there is no point in updating a phone that is illegal to sell right now.......? If not I guess I well have to go through the incredibly easy process of plugging in my nexus and using wugs galaxy nexus toolkit clicking a few buttons and installing a rom. Preferably Apex or if possible nothing but Android as Google intended without all the tweaks and costume kernals that just make me worry about my phone overheating. Don't get me wrong it has never happened but what can I say I trust Google more than Franco and all the others they invest a ton of money trying to make sure it is done right the first time. Not that the other guys aren't doing an awesome job...
  • Actually I'm wondering if the software changes needed to dodge the injunction will be part of JB, which might encourage vzw etc to get the update out quickly. This is my optimism bordering on insanity again.
  • I just got the OTA for the GSM model and it doesn't include that.
  • thats great now that the UI is fast and smooth lets hope it will reach olders phones too
  • wish I had a Galaxy Nexus right now instead of my Samsung Galaxy S3. I really want this update like yesterday.
  • One thing I think people need to remember... Dual core processors on smartphones have yet to even reach their full potential. One thing that really bugged me about android was that they were making great strides in the hardware department, but leaving out key annoying issues (such as battery and improving the overall software performance. They are starting to do better with the batteries (the phone manufacturers that is) and Jelly Bean is the first conceivable effort made at fine tuning the software to actually maximize the cpu capabilities. Let's face it, you don't need a quad core processor on a phone yet. It's just a waste. The GNex is an all around win for me because my concern is not so much the hardware advancements as much as the software advances. Google is moving from playful game-ish looking OS to a more refined professional OS. They are finally maximizing the OS's capabilities. That's what I want. The HTC One is good, the GS3 is good,but my nexus (even though it's almost a year old) is still more relevant than all the new phones coming out, and will continue to be with each update. Think about it.