I'm beginning to think mobile operating systems are entering a lull period of minor updates and fill-in-the-cracks advances. That's certainly the case for Google's Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean" and appears to apply to Apple's forthcoming iOS 6. After the wild advances in recent years, both iOS 6 and "Jelly Bean" are a bit boring. That reality speaks to maturity in the two platforms, not something amiss at Google or Apple. In truth, the pace of advancement for the last several years is not sustainable.
After all, neither OS X nor Windows has introduced many fundamentally new capabilities for some years. OS X updates have focused mainly on bolstering security, introducing touch and other mobile capabilities to the desktop, and enhancing Apple's portfolio of bundled apps. Windows updates have focused on modernizing the operating environment, deepening connections with Microsoft's back-end technologies, and -- in the one radical, though poorly executed change -- grafting on the Metro touch-centric interface.
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iOS and Android: Refinement is now the name of the game
Both Apple (in Mac OS X Snow Leopard) and Microsoft (in Windows Vista) did execute major under-the-hood reworking, akin to replacing the engine in a good-condition car so that it can go another 100,000 miles, But the immediate effect on users was minor in both cases, even if it ensured the platforms' longevity.
From what Apple has shown, iOS 6 for the iPhone and iPad lets you tag incoming calls for follow-up, enable Siri and turn-by-turn voice directions on some devices, put your device into do-not-disturb mode, and work with download links on the Web -- all refinements. The big innovation is Passbook, an Apple service that creates a mobile wallet for tickets (airline, train, theater, and so on), but even that's a variation of the mobile wallet efforts Google and others are undertaking.
In a similar vein, Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean" -- slowly rolling out to existing tablets and smartphones -- adds its version of Apple's popular Siri voice-based search service, enabled user actions from notifications (you don't have to open the app itself to respond), increased the number of supported human languages, freed its dictation feature from its former Internet-connection requirement, made widgets resizable and more easily removed when no longer wanted, and refined the graphics processing.
Most of these enhancements are good and welcome, but they're becoming like PC updates: solidifying the existing base and enhancing it more subtly each time.
Windows Phone and BlackBerry lack solid footing, powerful apps
Contrast this to what's going on with the two remaining competitors in mobile: Microsoft's Windows Phone and Research in Motion's BlackBerry. Microsoft will formally unveil Windows Phone 8 in late October, finally adding key missing capabilities such as security and management that have kept Windows Phone out of most businesses. RIM promises to ship BlackBerry 10 by April 2013, though that OS has slipped so many times that I won't believe it until I actually see it.