The long awaited Android version, 4.4 Kit Kat is finally out, though just for Google’s own Nexus family of devices starting with their latest flagship, the Nexus 5. The Nexus line always had an upper hand on other devices, mainly because of the Google influence. This backing gives them a stronger identity and also makes them the first of devices to get the latest updates, while million others wait in line for their skinned versions.
That is your typical, sad and never-ending tale of device manufacturers; neglecting and orphaning other devices as they reallocate all resources to their next flagship or strive to enter every other market segment possible. Since all of the top devices and competitors offer not just one but a large number of devices that run Android, the only way for them to make a newer device more compelling is by releasing the newer Android version with it and pushing back older devices until their defined targets are achieved. After all, that is capitalisation. At least with KitKat, this won’t prevail in the coming generation of devices. Google plans on ensuring that every upcoming Android out there performs like a flagship which is capable of running the latest version of their Android Operating System (KitKat), and is not restricted to Gingerbread or ICS.
The History Of Android Versions
You surely must have noticed by now, the alphabetical confection based scheme of labeling Android versions. Keeping the initial internal versions aside, 1.0 and 1.1 (Astro and Bender; named after fictional robots), the true alphabetical dessert naming convention started with version 1.5, Android Cupcake. Going ahead, as time progressed, it got sweeter and sweeter. From Cupcake to Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean and KitKat.
OS names Versions Cupcake 1.5 Eclair 2.0, 2.0.1 and 2.1 Froyo 2.2 and 2.2.3 Gingerbread 2.3, 2.3.2, 2.3.3 and 2.3.7 Honeycomb (tablets only) 3.0, 3.1 and 3.2 Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0, 4.0.2, 4.0.3 and 4.0.4 Jelly Bean 4.1.1, 4.1.2, 4.2.1, 4.2.2, 4.3 and 4.3.1 as a Nexus 7 LTE update
The major upgrades and overhauls which reflected visual and user interface changes (from a user perspective) were mainly available in Gingerbread, Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean. Rest all majorly consisted internal code fine tuning and some nifty upgrades like Trim (for improved storage performance and indexing) in Android 4.3 and Project Butter (for smoothness and speed) in Jelly Bean.
KitKat 4.4 is such a major upgrade as opposed to the usual incremental jumps, 4.1.1 to 4.1.2 etc. It doesn’t contain a visual makeover but there are finer interface tweaks in place to make an already amazing mobile OS even better.
Lock-screen music playback controls will be backed with the album art of the song being played and movie art will be displayed while projecting movies to chrome cast. Not that useful, but a simple visual tweak that adds some life to the simplistic lockscreen, otherwise occupied with widgets or pattern/pin/password screen.
Google Apps will now support true full screen. This matters for devices with on-screen buttons (without hardware keys; home, back, recent applications), where a considerable chunk of screen real estate is compromised. Instead of the on-screen buttons fading into three small dots and still retaining the space, they will now completely disappear. You can bring them back by swiping from the edge of your screen, an action similar to your notification bar swipe down, but only from the bottom or side depending on your screen orientation. Example, when you launch Play Books and start reading a book you see the notification bar and on screen buttons fade away, but, they are still present there as black bands. In KitKat your entire screen space, edge-to-edge, will be used by these applications. So, now with the same screen size, you will be able to see a much bigger page with more content minus the distractions. As Google highlights it,”Immerse yourself”.
Utility & Under-The-Hood Tweaks
Memory improvements are in place which will allow a device with just 512 MB of RAM to easily run KitKat, which otherwise would struggle even with ICS. Among the pre-existing devices, the ones capable of running KitKat is not known. Time will tell, as all of this depends not only on specs but also the device manufacturer’s willingness to allocate resources for pushing its low-mid range segment up the Android version chart. But the declaration that every new device released in 2014 will ship with KitKat itself says more than enough about the improvements in the software. Along with this memory optimisation, Nexus 5 specifically, also gets a touch screen upgrade, which gives it an even better touch response time and accuracy.
Google Voice Search that has shown staggering improvements in terms of speech recognition accuracy, is even more accurate this time. So, more accents and languages will be easily recognised without requiring weird voice modulations. Google Now gets even more helpful, by making use of a low power core for constantly listening to voice commands (“Okay Google” is the keyword) even when the device is locked. This is the same manner in which recent Samsung devices conserve power with the use of lower frequency cores for things such as sensors and less heavy tasks. So the decent 2300mAh battery of the Nexus 5 isn’t likely to drain before your day ends. As of now this feature is specific only to Nexus 5 attributing to the requirement of a chip level hardware.
Phonebook & Messaging
Similar to the ‘favorite contacts’ or ‘frequently called’ contact widgets found in Sony Xperia Z1 and Samsung’s Touchwiz, Nexus’ phonebook now sorts contacts based on the frequency of your conversations and displays a thumbnail grid of favourites on top of other contacts. Also, a new universal caller ID that performs like Truecaller comes preloaded. This makes use of Google’s Database listings and gets you the identity of the caller whose number you do not have stored in your contacts.
Bye Bye Crude Text Messaging app. The stock Android app will be the second victim to go out of fashion. First Hangouts kicked out Gtalk, and now this. Few good things Hangouts provides is, cross-device sync which allows you to resume the conversation from on any other device right where you previously left it and a streamlined conversation flow, which is essentially all messages, photos, video call session details etc, with any particular person as a single conversation starting from the first message you exchanged to the last.
Emoji (a wider range of Japanese emoticons) which if you loved in the existing Hangouts app, will now, be available across all Google Apps.
This list doesn’t end here. There are more tweaks and upgrades covering almost every aspect of a device such as, Bluetooth, Infrared, NFC, Location, Chromecast, Email, Wallpapers, Photography, Chrome Browser, Device Management, Downloads, Home Screen, Battery Conservation, Audio & Video Playback, Security and more.
Check the official website for an illustrative view of these features and other details on what to expect.