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Android 4.4 KitKat released: feature breakdown

Authored by: Loie Favre — Oct 31, 2013

Google has finally pulled the wrapper off the newest candy bar platform update in 4.4 KitKat. There's a lot of major work in this newest update to the Android platform, much of it addressing fragmentation, memory and battery optimizations for older Android devices and a whole new immersive design and user interface. You've also got a general expansion of Android's ability to connect, whether it be to Bluetooth devices, cloud printing, secure payments or televisions. Read on for the full breakdown of the major changes to be found in Android 4.4 KitKat.

android kitkat
At last it is here. A treat for everyone. / © Google/Nestle

NFC and Google Wallet for everyone

Many Android owners love the NFC ability of their device, but many more don't have the option to use it with Google Wallet because their carrier controls the secure element of the NFC chip in their phone and it is the same element to which Wallet requires access in order to store sensitive data. With KitKat this has all changed. Perhaps to make things simpler and more widely available for the average user, or perhaps just to bypass the carriers who refused to bundle Google Wallet with their handsets, KitKat will feature the ability to emulate credit cards, access and transit passes, making the need for storing sensitive data unnecessary. This will work with any mobile carrier and lets apps manage your payment info.

AndroidPIT NFC Google Wallet
NFC and Google Wallet will be available for everyone. / © NFC Forum/Google

Fragmentation cleanup

As we always knew, Android KitKat (and the major update that will follow next year) are aimed squarely at minimizing the fragmentation of the Android platform. With a billion devices in the wild, most with less than spectacular hardware and half running pre-Jelly Bean versions of Android, many OEMs simply haven't bothered to engage in the dull work of providing tweaked software updates for those older, cheaper devices.

Android KitKat is designed to bridge a lot of that gap by allowing many more handsets than normal to make the jump to the new version. This will be achieved by making the updated OS less dependent on top-notch specs, meaning carrier and manufacturer updates can be spread around further which will hopefully make the work more palatable to them. KitKat includes better tools for developers to make memory-efficient software at the same time as providing users with better hardware support through memory optimization to improve the performance of lower-end Android devices.

According to the Google Blog, they've done a lot of work in removing unneccessary background services and memory consumption of features used on a daily basis, affecting not only Google apps but others like Chrome or YouTube. This also means that older devices that run on 512 MB of RAM will have no problem getting all the new features that are coming with Android 4.4, making this new version of the operating system available to billions of smartphone users.

Android fragmentation devices 2013
The number of Android devices in use in July 2013. / © Open Source

Wireless improvements - Bluetooth, cloud services, infrared 

As Google tries to spread further and further into your living room, support for infrared blasters for your television will now be enabled on any device running 4.4 that has an infrared port. Improved Bluetooth support also arrives in the form of Bluetooth MAP support (Message Access Profile) which, for example, will allow the usage of Bluetooth-enabled cars to exchange messages with your device. There's also Chromecast and Chrome web view suppport now, the first letting you watch online entertainement from Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus and Google Play on your HDTV. Crome web view will allow you to easily and quickly render web components using apps suited for this purpose.

Location modes and monitoring, as well as location in quick settings are all steps that Android is taking to improve these services which have become indispensible to many users. Location modes and monitoring will help you save battery life by easily making changes in the settings, so you won't have to go through GPS, Wi-Fi or mobile network settings toggles to do this easy task which up until now was a little tricky and involved too many steps. You can also check to see which apps are snooping about your location right in the settings.

androidpit home screen hangouts
The improved design involves a nice total screen view of what you are reading. Now Hangouts will include all of your messages, including your SMS or MMS. © Google

Friendlier, cleaner and more immersive design

''OK Google'' lets you search for that song you were wanting to hear, get directions and other functions without needing to touch the screen. Then, if you are reading a book or a magazine, KitKat will get rid of any on-screen distractions so all you have is what you are reading or watching in immersive mode. Swiping to the edge of your screen will bring up your status bar and navigation buttons to quickly access your smartphone's main functions once again. In keeping up with their promise of reducing memory usage and optimizing this at the same time, this improves multitasking greatly allowing you to do multiple things at once without any annoying lags. 

There's also some full-screen wallpaper previews, easy home screen switching which you can adjust in your settings under Home, a refreshed look to your email app and of course, HDR+ photography like we mentioned with the Google+ event yesterday. Then of course, they've also made the lock screen just one notch better with music and movie-seeking which has you long pressing on the play or pause button to select the point in the movie you want, all in the lockscreen.

android4 4 emoji
New emoji! Oh joy! © Google

Helping you get organized: calls, contacts, messages and emoji

Android wants to help you get your contacts in order by placing those you call most often first on the list and giving you quick access to nearby places and businesses, all of which are also found in your Google apps. There's a new caller ID feature, which automatically looks to see who is calling by checking local listings on Google Maps. You've got all your messages in the Hangouts app, including your SMS and MMS messages, other convos and video calls. As we mentioned yesterday, there are also some new location sharing and animated GIFs as well. Awesome! Finally, everyone loves emojis and they've got these delightful characters right in the Google Keyboard.

android4 4 callid
Who is calling? KitKat will tell you! © Google

Features for busy people who are constantly on the go

Now with Android 4.4 you can print your files from your phone or tablet on the fly when you are connected to Google Cloud Print, HP ePrint printers or other printers as long as they have an app in the Google Play store. If that wasn't enough, you can also use apps like Quickoffice where you can open and save your files right on Google Drive, Dropbox, Box or any other of your preferred cloud services.

android4 4 pick a file
Want to check that Excel sheet once again? No problem! Print it out when you are sitting in the metro? Done! © Google

Android 4.4 KitKat will be coming to the Nexus 4, 7 and 10 as well as the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One Google Play editions in the weeks to come.

What are your initial first thoughts on Android 4.4 KitKat? Do you think they missed anything?

Source: Android

Loie Favre found her way to her present passion for Android and smartphone technology after experiencing an epiphany when she held her Galaxy Note 2. From that point onwards, you can find her with her nose buried in countless Android apps and different smartphone models, and thanking her lucky stars that she gets to work at something she loves.


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