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New Android phones must run KitKat, says Google memo

If you’re hoping to pick up a new Android phone during 2014, chances are that it’ll be running the latest KitKat 4.4 software, if a leaked Google memo is to be believed. The document states that Google Mobile Services (GMS), which include Maps, Hangouts and Google Now, may be withheld from new devices that try and launch with an older version of the Android operating system.

According to the memo seen by Mobile Bloom, Google’s OEM partners have been told to stop sneaking out hardware running earlier versions in order to stamp out fragmentation and get everyone on the same page as far as Android goes. The directive seems to apply to budget and mid-range handsets as well as the top-of-the-range devices (such as the Galaxy S5) that we expect to see this year.

“Starting February 2014, Google will no longer approve GMS distribution on new Android products that ship older platform releases,” explains the document. “Each platform release will have a ‘GMS approval window’ that typically closes nine months after the next Android platform release is publicly available. (In other words, we all have nine months to get new products on the latest platform after its public release.)”

That means if you are the CEO of a handset manufacturer and you were hoping to push out a Jelly Bean tablet in the near future, you might find access to Google Play blocked. Android KitKat 4.4 arrived in October, so presumably anything after July will need to have it installed.

Android fragmentation has been a concern for Google: With so many older versions out in the wild, app development and security issues become a major headache. The latest information from the official Android Developer pages suggests that KitKat is running on just 1.8 percent of devices. Jelly Bean 4.1-4.3 accounts for 60.7 percent.

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