It’s finally here! Google just released the new Nexus 5 smartphone with Android 4.4 KitKat to the Google Play Store, and has confirmed that most Nexus devices and Google Play edition smartphones will be updated in the coming weeks. After all the leaks, rumors, and speculation Google’s finally unveiled all of the details on the official Developer Blog.
While many tech enthusiasts will talk about smaller memory footprints and a new Android made for every device, we want to run down most of the headline features that are new with Android 4.4 KitKat, but do so in simple terms for the average consumer. What makes android 4.4 different from 4.3, which many don’t have, or even Android 4.2 Jelly Bean that’s on nearly 50% of Android devices today. So read on for a quick outline of what’s new with Android 4.4 KitKat in simple terms.
Google starts by sharing details about the new immersive mode, which is essentially just a new way for Android to show virtually everything in fullscreen. No longer will we still have nav bars on the top and bottom. Whether you’re playing a game, watching a movie, or browsing the web, Android will hide everything but what you want to see. Making the experience more immersive no matter what you’re doing.
Another thing worth mentioning here is the navigation bar up top is now translucent, and can be customized. Meaning that application developers can tap into it and customize it as they need. This is where we’ll see part of the immersive mode. Apps will blend into the nav bar with the color of that specific application, giving users an in-depth feeling and a truly immersive fullscreen experience.
Android For Everyone
As many of you probably know that purchased a Motorola DROID a few years ago, or even some of HTC’s One devices from last year, not every Android device gets updated. This has been a part of the fragmentation and upgrades argument, well, since Android’s birth. The debate on what will get updated, and when, has always been an issue for carriers, manufacturers, and consumers. This will no longer be an issue with Android 4.4 KitKat and beyond. Google brought all its smarts together to make the most stable, fast, fluid, and more importantly, efficient version of a mobile OS to date.
“Android 4.4 is designed to run fast, smooth, and responsively on a much broader range of devices than ever before — including on millions of entry-level devices around the world that have as little as 512MB RAM.”
The new Google Nexus 5 and many top-tier smartphones all have 2GB of RAM, and even 3GB with the Galaxy Note 3, but not everyone needs or wants that powerful of a device. More importantly, not everyone can afford that type of device. As a result, Android 4.4 KitKat will be able to run smooth and stable on even the most budget-friendly and entry level smartphone. With Google claiming older devices with 512MB of RAM can run with ease.
Google streamlined every major component to improve memory usage and overall performance. In simple terms this means even the older single core smartphones from 2011 should technically be able to run Android 4.4 KitKat with ease. Whether or not Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola and others put effort into older devices or not, is another question entirely. In the long run though, devices should stay up to date much longer in the future.
Previously in Android some devices with NFC used something called a secure element to securely hold important info, like credit card details, to use NFC and mobile wallet applications. As a result, many carriers didn’t like the idea and Google Wallet, and other loyalty and passport type applications never got off the ground. With Android 4.4 KitKat this won’t be a problem. Using an emulating system Google Wallet and many other NFC payment type systems can all be used safely and effectively across all devices with Android 4.4
Just like Passbook on iOS which stores credit cards, gift cards, boarding passes and more, Google will probably be announcing a new Google Wallet app using the new changes to Android 4.4 that will bring this full solution to Android. We’ve had it for a long time, but was limited, and now Google’s opened the door to unlimited possibilities with NFC.
Google Now is front and center, being accessed right from the lockscreen with a simple swipe. As you all know with Google Now, from here you can get news, weather alerts, directions, and basically any voice command within seconds. Not to mention the Nexus 5 features hands-free voice commands. You’ll be able to use the power of Google Now from the lockscreen, or without touching your device all with voice activation.
Dialer & Caller ID
Not only did the phone application get a visual overhaul and new app icon, but it’s completely improved and redesigned. Google’s integrated some next-gen features to both calling, and caller ID. Now when you head to the dialer it will pull numbers from your contacts, nearby stores, restaurants, and businesses, or even a company email and contact list, all instantly. You can call a friend from your contacts, or just type Best Buy into the dialer for an instant number of the Best Buy nearest to your location. You won’t have to search for a number, it just appears. Take that Siri.
Not only does it do everything mentioned above, but the phone app automatically will prioritize the contacts you call most. Making friends and family front and center, so you’ll never have to scroll to find a person you call daily. It’s easier, faster, and now smarter. Speaking of smarter, the built-in caller ID uses the power of Google Search to help you always know who that anonymous number is.
“Whenever you get a call from a phone number not in your contacts, your phone will look for matches from businesses with a local listing on Google Maps.”
Searching Google and Maps, any unknown number will be searched for, and KitKat will try to give users an ID notification of the incoming call. Again, everything is faster and smarter with KitKat.
Google Hangouts will replace the stock “messenger” or messaging application for sending and receiving text messages. So don’t be alarmed when there’s no app for messages. Yes there’s still 3rd party options from the Play Store, but Hangouts will do everything now. Never miss a message no matter how it’s sent. Text, MMS, Google Chat, or even video calling, Hangouts will deliver everything in one easy to find and read location.
For those looking for a rundown of nearly everything that’s new, technical or not, here’s a quick video from Google explaining everything. It may be a bit over the top for some, but explains things in a somewhat simple fashion as well.
Taking screenshots of your device is nothing new with Android, but starting with 4.4 you’ll be able to record video of what’s on the display. Anything from a Hangout video call, playing games, to even a how-to guide for developers to share how to use new features of an application. Anything you want to record on your smartphone screen can easily be saved in an MP4 right on the device.
Oh, and there will be a secure method here, so users can’t rent a movie from the Play Store and record the entire thing in 720p (or 1080p) video right off of the device. So developers and Netflix don’t need to worry about pirates.
There’s so many small things and developer options that are new we’d be here forever, so instead wanted to throw out a lightning round of a few easy to understand new features that are also being announced with Android 4.4 KitKat. Google’s improved Wireless Printing for one, and the stock keyboard now has full emoji support. Now you don’t have to have an iPhone or a 3rd party keyboard to send emoji’s on Android. Sadface! Closed captioning is integrated into Android by default, device manager and find my device, Infrared Blasting. Support for infrared options like the Galaxy S4 and other smartphones with an infrared. Use your smartphone as a remote control.
We have a new low-power audio playback. While most processors and smartphones already sip on battery while you listen to music, Android will now take on Apple and the iPod. The low-power mode will enable music streaming and playing for hours and hours on end, without hardly any battery drain. Promising 60 hours of playback on the Nexus 5.
Seek from lockscreen will allow users to seek through songs or even movies from the lockscreen. Instead of just being able to control and skip to the next track in Google Music, you can now seek through a specific song, all from the lockscreen. Step-counting sensors are built in, allowing fitness apps and accessories to be more accurate than ever.
So when can you have it? The first rule of Fight Club is, don’t ask for ETAs. Wait, that’s not right. Android 4.4 KitKat will first arrive on the Google Nexus 5, which was released today, and start hitting other Nexus devices over the next few weeks. Whether or not Google will wait more than a week remains to be seen, but hopefully sooner rather than later.
Until we get our hands on the new Nexus 5 and KitKat, we can’t give you our own final thoughts, but so far everything looks extremely impressive. Android 4.3 Jelly Bean was the most refined and best Android experience to date, and KitKat will be even better. Google’s mobile OS just got faster, smarter, cleaner, and more efficient across the board. And these are just a few of many important and great new features.
For now the Nexus 5 and other Nexus devices will be the first and only ones enjoying Android 4.4 KitKat, as it will take some time for manufacturers to push out the latest and greatest changes to their devices. HTC and Samsung both have updated each of their respective flagship smartphones to Android 4.3 this month, which was released earlier this year, so many users will have a little wait before they see KitKat on their device of choice.