Google’s latest iteration of Android, version 4.4, was released on the Nexus 5 almost one month ago. Google announced both somewhat quietly, and without much fanfare or even an official event. The Nexus 5 with Android 4.4 just suddenly showed up.
Since then KitKat has been released for the Nexus 4, the original Nexus 7, the 2013 Nexus 7, the HTC One Google Play edition, the Moto X, and a few others. It brought with it a re-engineered set of “core apps” that are supposed to be lighter-weight and run faster on a wider selection of hardware. Not every device has received the update to KitKat yet — not every device will. But for those of you who have gotten the update already, we’d like to know: KitKat early adopters, how is Android 4.4 treating you?
Google went back to the drawing board with Android 4.4. Developers designed it to run fast, smooth, and “responsively” on more devices than ever before, focusing on entry-level devices in emerging markets with as little as 512MB RAM — half that of most higher-end phones and tablets on the market today. In addition to core changes to Android itself, system processes now use less heap and more aggressively protect from apps using up large amounts of RAM.
The Dalvik JIT code cache has been tuned, and kernel samepage merging (KSM) and swap to zRAM have been included to further optimize how memory is managed. New configuration options have been added that let OEMs tune out-of-memory levels for threads and processes, set the cache size for graphics, control how memory is reclaimed, and more.
When lots of services all start at once (like when you move from a cellular network to a Wi-Fi bubble) the operating system will now launch those services in small groups, serially. This avoids traffic jams in network traffic, as well as spikes in memory and processor demands.
Some developers have tried to create apps with full-screen, immersive modes. Even Google itself included mechanisms to get various UI components “out of the way” in previous versions of Android, though they ironically still occupied screen space. Media players and eBook readers all tried (with varying levels of success) to get everything off the screen except for their own content. Now, finally, with KitKat, there’s an official way to do that. Apps that take advantage of this new feature can “use every pixel on the device screen” to present their content and capture touch events — though Google Now still pops up at the most inconvenient times.
Most apps, regardless of platform, are built using several individual and somewhat independant views. These views (or “pages”) interact with each other, but some are better tied to the context of the previous or next views though the application of simple animations. Some developers have invested countless hours into building animation hints and “polish” in their apps, now developers can use the newly introduced transitions framework. This frameworks lets developers define “scenes” and the transition types between them. They can pick from a predefined set of transitions, or define a custom transition with their own animation styles if needed.
Translucent system UI
One of the things OEMs are always trying to do is make their screens bigger. We have 3-inch phones, we have 9-inch phones, and we have every size and shape in between. At the top and sometimes the bottom of our phones and tablets is a black bar with icons inside. These bars take up far more screen real-estate than we’d care to admit. Other than a few “immersive” scenarios that we previously mentioned, you shouldn’t simply get rid of those bars, but you could make them translucent. This is an ingenious way to open up the screen and make it appear larger than it is — or, put another way, to make it appear as large as it always has been.
All the small stuff
Adding all the “small” stuff would turn an already lengthy article into a novel. Instead, we’ll just quickly cover a few of the less “wow-factor” features, or those that you may not be likely to use.
- Support for low-power sensors so apps like pedometers can run all the time, without eating up your battery.
- With the cloud becoming so much more important in our lives, a new storage access framework has been added that lets app developers add a standard, easy-to-use UI so users can browse and access recent files in a consistent way across compatible apps and cloud storage providers.
- Android apps can now print virtually any type of content over Wi-Fi or cloud-hosted services like Google Cloud Print. Compatible apps can discover available printers, change paper sizes, and choose specific pages to print — you know, just like you could from a “real” computer.
- New NFC capabilities through Host Card Emulation essentially lets KitKat-powered devices perform secure NFC-based transactions through something called “Host Card Emulation” (HCE). This not only avoids the locked-down Secure Element that’s held up the widespread distribution of Google Wallet and other digital wallets, but also enables a new Reader Mode, which will let your Android act as the payment terminal rather than just the wallet in transactions — once apps support it.
- In a very controversial move, Google changed the way SMS and MMS messages are handled. This “broke” old apps that were tied to an unpublished and unofficial API. Doing so created what many argue is a more robust and standardized interaction model for all apps that handle these types of messages.
KitKat early adopters, sound off!
What devices have you loaded KitKit on so far? Have you noticed any of the enhancements that we mentioned above in your daily use? Were the changes subtle or dramatic? Which features to you like best? Which do you like least? Have you had problems or headaches with Google’s latest confection? Are you still waiting for your update? Head down to the comments and let us know: how is Android 4.4 KitKat treating you?
Haven’t gotten your fill of KitKat news? Want more information about the Nexus 5? Perhaps you’d like to talk about whatever is on your mind in the Pocketnow forums! In each case, Pocketnow has got you covered!