Google rolls out update to Android system

If you’re the proud owner of Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus HSPA+ version, which is available across the UK and in most of the US, you’ll be the first to get Google’s latest version of its Android system.

The internet giant has now started uploading the Jelly Bean software, which it says offers an improved search experience, to users’ smartphones.

But the new software has not been without its issues. At one point, a patent row between Google and Apple led the Nexus phone to be banned from sale in the US, with Apple claiming the update – also known as Android 4.1 – was potentially in breach of the patent held by Apple for its voice-controlled “assistant” Siri.

But Google has now tweaked the system and says its Voice Search facility can display answers to spoken questions by using sources which include Wikipedia, the CIA World Factbook and Freebase, a community-run knowledge database.

Other new features announced by Google include the ability to connect an Android phone to another Bluetooth device by simply bumping them together, app widgets that automatically resize to fit the space available on the home screen and offline map viewing where users can download entire city maps, which could give travellers peace of mind in areas where lack or coverage or high data costs are an issue.

Google Now has also been introduced, which offers you information you don’t even ask for. Google Now tells you the day’s weather before you leave the house, what traffic conditions are like so you can plan your journey home from work, or what your favourite team’s score is as they’re playing.

In addition, Google Now suggests restaurants and their best dishes when the user walks down the street and bases its updates on previous searches you have made.

But iPhone maker Apple believes both of these features could potentially be in breach of an integrated search patent filed by the American firm. Apple was granted intellectual property rights to the idea of gathering search results from a variety of sources and then presenting them in “a unitary interface”.

Apple uses this innovation for its own voice-activated search function, with Siri gathering information from Google, Yelp, Wolfram Alpha, Yahoo and Wikipedia.

US courts did impose a sales ban after complaints by Apple that Samsung was infringing the patent but the restriction was later lifted. South Korean firm Samsung managed to convince the court to temporarily remove the sales ban on its Galaxy Nexus smartphones.

Google has described its updated system as the “fastest and smoothest” version of its user interface to date.

The firm says 400 million Android devices have been activated to use the new update, four times as many as last year and that number is growing at a rate of 12 machines every second. So, unless Apple appeals the court decision, the new software could be coming to your mobile soon.

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