The new operating system is available for the updated Google Nexus 7 tablet, a 7-inch device that will begin retailing July 30 for $229. Some of the new features are small—dial-pad autocomplete, for instance, which suggests phone numbers or names as the user types digits into the keypad—while others are clearly meant to establish Android as the world’s most advanced mobile OS. For example, Android 4.3 on the Nexus 7 supports OpenGL ES 3.0, the industry standard for accelerated 3D graphics, which could help the tablet become more of a hardcore gamer machine.
Restricted profiles could expand Android’s functionality to different demographic groups. The feature would allow parents to lock down devices used by everyone in the family; retailers could also use it to convert tablets into point-of-sale systems or information kiosks, without risking a customer accessing the underlying OS.
All those new features and polish could help Android compete more heartily against Apple’s iOS 7, which is expected to make its debut this fall.
Unlike Android 4.3, which is more of an iterative upgrade, iOS 7 is a total reworking on Apple’s mobile operating system. The icons have been redesigned, along with the interface: Jony Ive, the Apple executive so famous for designing hardware such as the iPhone and iPad, is a fan of translucent elements layered atop one another, as well as “flat” icons.
Apple’s iOS 7 is intended to refresh the look and feel of an aging operating system. With Android 4.3, Google has a different goal: earn Android some respect as a polished, feature-rich operating system capable of taking on iOS. If iOS 7 rolls out the gate in anything other than perfect form (it’s very much a work in progress at the moment), the new-and-improved Android could make some substantial gains toward that goal in the public’s mind.