After much teasing, Google has finally released the latest version of Android, version 4.4. Known as KitKat, Android 4.4 brings with it a number of improvements, some of which lie behind the scenes, that are sure to improve an Android user’s experience. Currently, KitKat is only available for the Google Nexus 5, but will soon be available for the Nexus 4, 7 and 10, the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One Google Play Edition as well.
While you wait for your Nexus 5 to arrive, or for your phone to get Android 4.4, here’s a list of some of the more notable changes to look forward to. If you’re an Android user interested in seeing what you’ll be getting on your device soon, or an iOS fan keeping tabs on the competition, read on.
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1. Better Memory Management
KitKat is designed to run on devices with as little as 512MB of RAM. Google has implemented behind-the-scenes improvements to Android 4.4’s memory management, and will be providing developers and OEM manufacturers with tools and options to take advantage of these improvements. These memory improvements are expected to lead to smoother multi-tasking as well.
The fact that less than half of all Android phones are running Android 4.x has led to fragmentation issues within Android. It looks like these memory optimizations may lead to greater adoption of Android 4.4, and this should help unify Android to some extent.
2. Improved Google Now
You can now activate Google Now by simply saying "OK Google". It’s only available to Nexus 5 for now though. The contextual cards feature also gets an upgrade. Google Now cards will try to predict information you need based on your location, favorite sites or TV programs.
In addition, Android 4.4 features a new app-linking feature, which allows Google Search to deep-link search results to applications installed on a user’s device. So, for instance, searching for a restaurant via Google Now can direct you to a restaurant reservation app such as OpenTable, ready to make a reservation for that particular restaurant.
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3. Hangouts App Upgraded
The old Android messaging app is now a thing of the past with KitKat. Instead, Google Hangouts now supports SMS and MMS, so all your messages will be in the same app. Hangouts will also be getting support for HD video calls across all devices.
Video and voice calling have also been improved, to make Hangouts an all-in-one solution to your communication needs. In addition, animated GIFs and location sharing through Google Maps will be supported.
4. Smarter Caller ID
Android’s default phone app is also getting some welcome changes, including a fresh new design. The dialer now has a search field that you can use to search for a business’s contact info listed in Google Maps. This will pull up contact info for businesses near your area.
This Google Maps data is also used by the phone app’s caller ID to identify any unknown numbers by cross-checking the number with nearby businesses. In addition to this new integration with Google Maps, the new phone app also prioritizes your contacts based on the people you talk to most.
5. Immersive Mode
Let’s face it; Android’s status bar and navigation buttons can sometimes get in the way, especially when you’re playing a game, reading eBooks or watching videos. Fortunately, Android 4.4 comes with a new immersive mode that hides everything except the app you’re using. Once you’re done, just swipe the edge of the screen to bring back your status bar and navigation buttons.
6. Integration With Cloud Storage
Android 4.4 comes support for cloud storage solutions such as Google Drive built into the operating system. This means that you can save and open directly from the cloud, without having to save into your device’s storage first. Apps such as QuickOffice are already able to take advantage of this integration and open documents directly from Google Drive on your Android device.
7. Printing On The Go
Google is making it much easier to print documents or photos on your phone by building support for Google Cloud Print directly into Android 4.4. This will allow you to print documents over WiFi or Bluetooth. Of course, this feature is limited to compatible printers with wireless capabilities, support for Google Cloud Print, as well as any printers that have apps available in the Google Play Store.
8. Built-In Sensors
Android 4.4 adds operating system support for two new composite sensors: step counter and step detector. This support will allow fitness app developers to access pedometer data without writing complex code and algorithms. This, coupled with the hardware sensor batching that reduces power consumed by sensors, means that Android 4.4 devices with compatible hardware, such as the Nexus 5, will be perfect for training and fitness purposes.
9. System-Wide Closed Captioning
Android 4.4 improves user accesibility by adding support for system-wide closed captioning settings. You can set whether captions should be shown, the language captions will be shown for, and text-related settings such as size and font. Apps that use video will be able to access these settings and show on screen captions based on your settings.
10. Lock Screen Art
The Android 4.4 lock screen can now show more than just widgets. When you’re listening to music or streaming movies via Chromecast, your device’s lock screen will show the fullscreen album or movie art. The lock screen will also have dedicated controls to allow you to play, pause and seek, all from the lock screen.
These are just 10 of the more notable updates in Android 4.4. There are a number of other new features included in KitKat, such as low-power location monitoring, easy home screen switching, built-in infrared blaster support and a redesigned downloads app, just to name a few. The entire list of changes is available on the Android website.
All in all, Android 4.4 isn’t what you’d call a spectacular update, but it does bring some much welcome improvements to the table. The improved memory management is particularly interesting, and the rest of the features combine to make Android 4.4 a solid addition to the Android family tree.