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Google kicks off Android 4.3 updates for Nexus devices

Here comes Jelly Bean, again

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Google's revamped Nexus 7 fondleslab is the first device to ship with Android 4.3, but other devices will be receiving the update over the air soon and owners of Google's flagship Nexus kit can already download system images.

The new OS release is an incremental update to the Android 4.x line and it retains the "Jelly Bean" code name of the last two major releases.

From the user's perspective, the most prominent new feature is support for restricted profiles, which allow the device owner to limit which apps specific user accounts are allowed to launch. Software developers can also have their apps advertise specific content or capabilities that can then be controlled via restricted profiles.

Notifications have been upgraded so that apps can now observe the stream of notifications and present them in new ways, including sending them to a different device connected over Bluetooth.

Device performance and responsiveness has also been improved in Android 4.3, including enhancements to hardware accelerated graphics rendering and reduced touch latency. Fonts and shapes now render more clearly, and the 2D graphics renderer can now scale across multiple CPU cores for some tasks.

Further enhancing graphics performance, the new release introduces support for OpenGL ES 3.0, the latest version of the cross-platform mobile graphics standard, which includes an updated shading and texture-rendering engine with native support for high quality texture compression. The catch, though, is that it does require support from the underlying graphics hardware. Support is already in place for the Nexus 4, Nexus 10, and the new Nexus 7, with other devices to come later.

Similarly, Android 4.3 introduces support for Bluetooth Smart Ready – aka the Low Energy portion of the Bluetooth 4.0 spec – but only on supported devices, which so far include the Nexus 4 and the new Nexus 7 only. The update also adds support for Bluetooth AVRCP 1.3, which enables more advanced control of remote media players from Android devices.

A new, modular DRM framework makes it easier to add content controls to media apps, while new VP8 encoding and media-muxing capabilities offer new options for authoring media on Android devices.

Android 4.3 also brings a variety of minor enhancements and new features, including improved app security via the SELinux framework, enhancements to localization and right-to-left language processing, improved logging and profiling tools for developers, accessibility improvements, and more. You can check out a detailed list in the update's official release notes.

Who will get it and when?

As for when you'll be able to get your hands on Android 4.3, that's hard to say. Google says it started rolling out the update for Nexus 4, Nexus 7 (old and new), Nexus 10, and HSPA+ Galaxy Nexus devices on Wednesday, but in practice it can take up to a month for over-the-air updates to reach every device.

Die-hards who just can't wait also have the option of downloading factory firmware images direct from Google's developer site. The Chocolate Factory made images available on Wednesday for every device that's getting the over-the-air update.

Note, however, that using these images means wiping your device. You'll also need an unlocked bootloader and a modicum of hacker-savvy, so this approach won't be for everyone.

When devices not on Google's initial update list will get Android 4.3 is even less clear. As in the past, the CDMA version of the Galaxy Nexus from Verizon is not getting the update in this first round, and if previous Jelly Bean updates are any indication, it may be some time before it does.

Timing for other phones will depend on handset makers and mobile carriers, but Google reps did mention at the launch event that an Android 4.3 update for the Samsung Galaxy S 4 would be "coming soon." ®

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