After far too much speculation, lots of waiting, and a surprise name-change in the middle of things, Android 4.4 KitKat is official. It’s not the huge card-based UI overhaul that we thought it might be, and it doesn’t introduce a Pie-like launcher, but it is filled with sweet goodness. So, sit back and let’s break off a piece of that KitKat bar OS and see what new KitKat features Android 4.4 brings.
Tighter Google Now integration
We’ve been asking for tighter integration with Google Now since we first saw it. Android 4.4 KitKat finally brings that. Similar to the Moto X, Android smartphones and tablets that are powered by KitKat will be listening to you, ready to take action when you say “Okay Google…” to start a voice search, get directions, or play a song. Unlike the Moto X, which includes special hardware to let it listen all the time, this feature only works when you’re on one of your homescreens*.
Sure, it’s not quite as convenient as the way the Moto X does it, but it’s a good compromise — and far less creepy!
* … as long as you have a Nexus 5. A strategically placed asterisk names Google’s flagship device by name, implying that others phones probably won’t get this feature, which is a shame.
More intelligent stock apps
The apps that come prepackaged with Android are (finally) getting a little smarter. When you want to make a phone call, the dialer now searches across your contacts, nearby places, and even Google Apps accounts (like your company’s directory), all from inside the app itself.
The updated version of the Hangouts app brings your SMS and MMS messages together — but apparently still lacks integration with both Google Voice text and voice messages, and still doesn’t have the ability to make phone calls like its iOS counterpart does.
The launcher has also been upgraded to get the information you need (regardless of where it is on your phone) easy and fast. Exactly how Google is doing this is still a bit ambiguous.
Print anywhere — now built-in
Before, if you wanted to print from your Android you had to download an app, find a compatible printer, and jump through some hoops. With KitKat you no longer have to go to the Play Store to download that app — it’s built-in. You’ll still have to work through all the rest of those steps, so it’s still not terribly convenient.
Michael Fisher wants to know who in the world still uses printers, anyway. They’re so old-fashioned, kill trees, and all that other stuff. But, for those of you who do still print, you can do so to any printer connected to Google Cloud Print, HP ePrint printers, and any other printers that have apps in the Google Play Store.
Android 4.4 reportedly makes significant performance improvements by optimizing the way memory is used in “every major component”. On the surface you might think this is so you can run more apps and switch between them quicker. While those statements are true, the bigger implication is that your whole experience will be quicker.
Some of today’s “lower-end” phones can’t be upgraded to the more recent versions of Android because of hardware constraints. Now that KitKat has slimmed down Android’s “memory footprint” by removing unnecessary background services and reducing how much memory various core features consume, your “slow” device should be able to run the latest and greatest version of the OS. Getting OEMs to provide those upgrades, and carriers to “bless” them is another story.
According to Google, “Android can run comfortably on … devices that are popular in much of the world” which include only “512MB of RAM “. 512MB RAM you say? You mean like the Nexus One?
Two ironies exist here: Android 4.4 is “slimming down”, which seems oxymoronic since “KitKat” is a chocolate treat; and even Google’s own Galaxy Nexus (just two generations back), won’t be getting their own KitKat upgrade.
Last of all, Google has made the Android experience “much more engaging”. Books, games, and movies will “take center stage” thanks to the new “immersive mode” that will automatically hide everything — except what you actually want to see. From the looks of it, the status bar and and possibly the soft button area will be transparent or translucent, and both will likely “fade away” when you don’t need them.
All in all, Android 4.4 KitKat isn’t the huge overhaul that many hoped it would be. I suspect we won’t see that until Android 5.0 — which may not be the next version of Android. We might see versions 4.5, 4.6, and so on before that major release lands on our devices.
Source: Official Google Blog