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Update: Jelly Bean Adds Additional Layout Specifically For 7" Screens

Eric McBride
9

Fragmentation is a word that’s used way too frequently in the Android community, and while I don’t see it being as big of a problem as some make it out to be, it’s definitely there. Not too long ago, Google stated that they wanted to press a reset button on Android to avoid further fragmentation and to address present issues, but it now seems that it might have just been talk. Why you ask? Because it’s now been reported that the newly announced Android Jelly Bean will come in 3 different versions: one for phones, one for 7 inch tablets, and one for full sized tablets. If these reports are accurate, Google may have just successfully created fragmentation for a device that hasn’t even been released yet. Or did they? **Updated information below**

A phone interface or a tablet UI?

The news comes via Liliputing.com, and they basically explain that a new interface was added to Jelly Bean specifically for 7 inch tablets. Ice Cream Sandwich was designed to run on both phones and tablets, and even though this process works, there were noticeable differences from ICS running on a phone and running on a tablet (which in my opinion is fine).

Many speculated that the Nexus 7 had more of a phone interface, with some devs going as far to tweak the software to give it a more tablet like appearance. But when Computer World asked Google directly about the Nexus 7 layout, they were told that the new tablet does not use a phone layout, but a new layout designed specifically for tablets with a 7 inch display.

An extension of fragmentation, or the beginning of a solution?

So at first glance, it appears that Google may have not only furthered fragmentation, but that they may have also complicated it even more by adding a new layout to the mix. It is true that Google’s developer tools allow apps to be coded so that they automatically change their layouts according to screen size, but if the amount of tablet optimized apps for Honeycomb and ICS are any indicator, the process must be a bit more complex than that on a developmental level.

I have been running Jelly Bean on my Galaxy Nexus for over a week now, and it’s fantastic. I have also read only positive reviews about the Nexus 7, and I think that Google may have a winner on their hands with this device. I just hope that they aren’t making life more difficult for Android developers by taking this route, and that Jelly Bean is more of a solution than an extension of an already complex problem.

Should Google care so much?

I could be very wrong about this, but it seems to me that Google is starting to care less and less about fragmentation, and in a way, I understand them. Google didn’t create fragmentation. OEMs and carriers created it by feeling the need to skin Android. While doing that to create differentiation does make sense in such a competitive market, is it Google’s fault that they can’t keep up after so many years and the millions of dollars they have made from Android? After all, Google can update Nexus devices whenever they want, and if developers can effectively use SDK tools to ensure that apps scale properly, should Google keep from implementing new (and most likely very necessary) layouts just because of the hassle it creates for OEMs and carriers?

What do you guys think? Was this step needed, or was it a step backwards?

I'm curious about how you guys feel about this, so voice your opinions in the comments below!

**UPDATE: Apologies guys, but it appears that one of the sources I used to report this information had it a bit wrong. To sum it up, the section about the layout sizes (top) is accurate, and an additional layout was specifically added to JB for devices with 7 inch screens. So it's not that there are 3 versions, but 3 layouts, with 1 of them (for 7 inch devices) being new. Sorry for the confusion on that guys, and thanks to Ian G. Clifton for his support in clarifying!**

Picture credits: www.technobuffalo.com

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Comments

Write new comment:
  • Mike dg Jul 10, 2012 Link

    Cleaned up.

    It gets my goat when tech blogs don't do their own research. Using another tech blog as the only source allows misinformation to spread like a wildfire.

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  • Brad Gogats Jul 10, 2012 Link

    This article is poorly researched....Android and more specifically Jelly Bean automatically resizes the systemUI to handle different screen sizes...there are not three different versions, just like ICS on phones and tablets does....Google decided to use the familiar phone interface for the Nexus 7 (changing the DPI settings on any device with ICS or above will automatically change the UI presented, tablet or phone. Please reconsider your sources.

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  • Eric McBride Jul 10, 2012 Link

    @Mike - Bro..seriously... there's no reason to make a moron out of yourself. Why not do a bit more research and learn how to speak like an adult before you challenge the words that have directly came out of Google's mouth? Moving on....

    @Brad I see exactly what you are saying, and am familiar with this implementation from ICS. But an additional "layer" for 7 inch tablets was added to 4.1 specifically to accommodate 7 inch tablets, which does in fact differ code-wise from JB on phones and full sized tablets. I can try to get Google's entire personal statement on this from Computer World and double check other sources if you wish, but I do consider them and Slashgear to be extremely good sources.

    That being said, as long as devs use the available SDK tools properly when developing apps, the apps SHOULD automatically scale to fit all display models, which is in the end what's important. But keep in mind, ICS were also supposed to "scale" when properly developed, yet the majority of them still don't scale properly on tablets.

    I'll look into it!

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  • Matt Jul 10, 2012 Link

    Erm, that does not imply "three different versions." All that means is that 4.1 includes additional layout information for 7 inch tablets. It's shipping on all devices, it is not a discrete version shipping on tablets vs. phones as you have implied. Your source doesn't even suggest that. You have misinterpreted the information as that because you don't understand software.

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  • Eric McBride Jul 10, 2012 Link

    "Jelly Bean will come in 3 different flavors". I'm not saying I'm a programming genius, but that sentence, which came directly from the source, can't be interpreted in so many ways can it?

    I will recheck naturally, but if a reliable source says "3 different versions" it has nothing to do with my "understanding of software".

    I will contact Slashgear for some clarity. And I will say without in any way insulting anyone, that I am glad you guys brought this to my attention.

    Update will come soon!

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  • Ian G. Clifton Jul 11, 2012 Link

    I'm a bit surprised by the vitriolic responses to this article. I'll try to clear things up a bit.

    Jelly Bean does not have 3 different versions. The overall UI will be optimized for three size "buckets" (normal, large, and x-large). These are the three flavors being referred to. Android has supported these sizes for years now, so this isn't increasing fragmentation; it's just optimizing the user experience on different devices. It's similar to having different assets for different device densities or languages. Jelly Bean does not make life harder for developers. They can still choose whether to optimize for different hardware profiles (e.g., the Nexus 7 is a "large" device and any app that doesn't have any layouts specific for large devices will fall back on the defaults).

    As far as the general process for creating tablet-optimized layouts, there are a couple of parts to that. First, Android layouts are not done with hard-coded pixel values. That's why nearly any app will work on a tablet, even if it was built before the first Android tablets were commercially available. The second part is that just expanding the layout doesn't give an ideal user experience. Android developers can quite easily create tablet-specific layouts (if their main layout is main.xml in the "layout" folder, the layout for the Nexus 7 would simply be called main.xml and be in the "layout-large" folder. The OS automatically uses the appropriate file for the device.). In fact, developing for tablets is generally easier because you have newer hardware, newer software, a larger heap, and less information density. Most commonly the apps aren't optimized for tablets because cost/time constraints such as the designer not having the time to create appropriate comps. For example, font sizes need to be adjusted for screens that are larger and held farther away. This is insanely easy for the developer, but it is work for the designer.

    Fortunately, many apps are optimized for a variety of devices. The majority of games that are done in OpenGL are also automatically great on other devices because OpenGL doesn't use pixel-based positioning. Usually the only work involved is testing how the touch screen controls feel and potentially having higher resolution textures for better devices.

    TL;DR: There are not three different versions of Jelly Bean. Google creating an experienced optimized for "large" (e.g., Nexus 7) devices does not create any additional work for developers.

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  • Eric McBride Jul 11, 2012 Link

    Ian..thank you VERY much for that. I see from the Slash Gear article that I pulled research from that he's running into the same responses, and I apologize for not pulling my information directly from the original source. No disrespect to Slashgear of course. Mistakes sometimes happen. :)

    I will update this article accordingly based on what you have said. Thanks alot for that Ian, and thanks for being so down to earth about it!

    EDIT: Everything you're saying seems to stick Ian, except for the part where you mentioned that "these sizes have been supported for years now". According to Google, the 7 inch form factor was added specifically for Jelly Bean. I have this confirmed, so I will add it to the article.

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  • Ian G. Clifton Jul 11, 2012 Link

    When I say the sizes have been supported for years, I mean the OS has supported the ability to provide layouts for "large" devices since Android 1.6 (before the original Droid). You can see the details on the developer site: http://developer.android.com/guide/practices/screens_support.html

    You can see an example of this with the Kindle Fire, which runs Android 2.3 under the hood. Despite that it's not Jelly Bean, developers can optimize their apps for that form factor.

    Google has added specific layouts for the built-in apps and their own apps that aren't part of AOSP (e.g., Gmail) to make the Jelly Bean user experience much better than it would have been previously, but the OS itself did not suddenly add support for large devices.

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  • Eric McBride Jul 11, 2012 Link

    Ah ok. I gotcha! Thanks again for your help!

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