Unwrapping Android 4.4 KitKat: Here’s what it will do for you

google memo android 4 installed new phones kitkats

It may have had enough false starts to get disqualified, and it’s certainly been leaking all over the place, but Google’s Android update, version 4.4 KitKat, has finally found its way out of the snack drawer. Here’s what KitKat brings to the table (aside from diabetes).

What’s with the name?

kitkat-android-wrapperUntil now, Google’s Android versions have been named after generic dessert-related snacks, such as Ice Cream Sandwich and Donut, making 4.4 KitKat the first to adopt the name of an actual product. So has Google sold out? According to a report by the BBC, no money changed hands at Google and KitKat company Nestle. Instead, Google execs wanted to do something, “Fun and unexpected,” and found inspiration after seeing the eponymous chocolate bars in a Google refrigerator, and the deal was finalized after a single phone call. 

KitKat’s confirmation revealed that Key Lime Pie, the name previously associated with the K release of Android, was used internally up to the last moment, so as not to ruin the surprise. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying it has attracted plenty of attention, right down to Nestle’s geeky, cheeky commercial, and using an Android robot on its KitKat packaging. No money may have technically changed hands, but make no mistake, this is a marketing/advertising deal between Google and Nestle.

Headline features

Keep your expectations in check. This is another small update to Android Jelly Bean (the fourth such update), and not Android 5.0, which could reasonably be expected to bring a more radical change. The focus here is on making the Android platform smoother, introducing subtle tweaks and new functionality – it’s a coating of silky chocolate to cover those layers of wafer and help the whole thing go down more easily.

  • Vanishing status bar: The status bar is now translucent and, along with the navigation buttons, it will melt away to give your content maximum screen space. Swipe the edge of the screen to bring it all back.dial-pad
  • Phone app updates: The new phone app bumps your favorite contacts to the top, and features new search capabilities so you can find a person or business and call directly from the app. You’ll also find smarter caller ID that can potentially identify callers, even if they aren’t a listed contact.
  • More Google Now: It’s easier than ever before to use Google Now. Swipe left to right from the home screen, or say “OK Google” and it will begin listening, eager to deliver your directions, or send a text. It can also lead you directly into apps now, not just websites.
  • Hangouts adds SMS: Hangouts is now your one-stop message shop, like a combination of FaceTime and iMessage.
  • Emojis: Emoji characters are available in the Google Keyboard. You have the option of setting a different default texting app if you don’t like Hangouts.
  • Works on older phones: Optimized memory means faster multitasking and a more responsive touchscreen. This should make general skipping around on your phone faster than ever, but also means that older phones with as little as 512MB of RAM can now run Android smoothly … if they ever get the update to 4.4.
  • Chromecast: Chromecast support allows you to project movies and music to your big screen (if you have Chromecast) and when your device is locked it will now display full screen related album and movie art. 

Productivity boost

KitKat brings a few extras for working stiffs, so, before you take a break, consider these shiny new abilities:

  • You can print files directly from your Android device to supported printers.print
  • The new Quickoffice app lets you create and edit documents, including spreadsheets and presentations.
  • You can open and save files from Quickoffice on Google Drive, other cloud services, or locally on the device. There’s also a recently used files menu that makes it super easy to share whatever you were working on by email, or just find it again in a hurry.

Let’s not forget

There are a lot of other features included in KitKat. Some of them offer developers and manufacturers exciting new APIs to play with. Here’s a quick run through of some good stuff we haven’t covered yet:

  • HDR+ photography support.
  • Infrared blasting for remote control functionality (for device with IR blasters).
  • Android Device Manager can find and wipe your device if you lose it.
  • Close captioning and subtitles now supported for video.
  • Bluetooth MAP support for Bluetooth-enabled cars.
  • Open architecture for NFC to encourage more mobile payments.
  • A built-in pedometer feature.

You can find an in-depth look at KitKat’s developer features at the Android site. These features will begin to pop up inside apps as soon as developers integrate them.

Enhanced performance

A theme that runs through a lot of KitKat’s refinements is the idea of making existing things run better. This is one way to tackle the thorny old issue of fragmentation. KitKat and Google’s delectable menu of apps have been optimized to run on older and entry-level smartphones and tablets, so 512MB of RAM is not necessarily going to be a barrier anymore.

There’s also been a lot of thought about another major annoyance: battery drain. Google has worked out a number of ways of extending your battery life. The location tracking supports a battery-saving mode, so you can trade accuracy for extra stamina. There’s new low-power audio playback (only on the Nexus 5 for now) which allows up to 60 hours of music. This should come to other devices with dedicated audio processors. Other general improvements in efficiency should help you squeeze a little more out of that battery.

When can I get it?

Order a Nexus 5 (you’ll have to be quick) and you could be playing around with Android 4.4 KitKat within a few days. Units are set to ship November 8.

KitKat will roll out to the Nexus 4, 7, and 10, as well as the Google Play Editions of the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 “in the coming weeks.” We’d guess within a month. It definitely isn’t coming to the Galaxy Nexus.

As for everyone else, HTC’s U.S. president, Jason Mackenzie, told Engadget that all HTC One units in North America will get the update within 90 days. That’s probably a realistic timescale for most of the Android flagships on the market right now.

Let us know when you get yours and what you think of it in the comments.

Updated on 10/17/2013 by Simon: Rewritten after KitKat release, new intro, details added on headline features, productivity boost, extra features, enhanced performance, and release schedule.

Article originally published on 09/10/2013

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: A.I.-powered cat toys, wallets, food containers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Home Theater

Learn to set up a Chromecast and turn any TV into the ultimate streaming machine

Google's Chromecast is one of the most economical streaming devices, allowing you to stream content to any modern TV, and we've got all the info you need to get started. Here's how to set up a Chromecast.
Product Review

It's got game. But the Razer Phone 2 is still crippled by its camera

The Razer Phone 2 will impress with its gaming prowess and 120Hz screen. But if you care at all about taking pictures on your phone, skip it. While Razer has improved the camera, it’s still short of the competition.
Home Theater

Google Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra: Everything you need to know

Google's Chromecast plugs into your TV's HDMI port, allowing you to stream content from your tablet, laptop, or smartphone directly to your TV. Here's what you need to know about all iterations, including the 4K-ready Chromecast Ultra.
Mobile

The Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are now available for purchase

Google's latest flagships, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, are now official and we have all the details from the October 9 event in New York City and Paris. Here's everything we know about the Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.
Mobile

Google’s new floating keyboard is so helpful, it’ll put you on cloud nine

Bezel-less smartphones look great, but typing isn't always so good, as grip can be more of a challenge. That's where Google's Gboard keyboard comes into play. It now has a floating keyboard feature to help out.
Mobile

Insane 5G Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 boasts a retro slide-up camera

Xiaomi will announce the Mi Mix 3 smartphone on October 25, and according to the company's spokesperson, it will be capable of connecting at 5G speeds and feature 10GB of RAM -- two world firsts.
Mobile

Declutter your life with our favorite wireless chargers for Android and iPhones

We checked out the best wireless phone chargers to make tangles and uncooperative ports a thing of the past. Whether you have an iPhone or Android, find out which wireless charging pads are worth buying, and how their features compare.
Deals

Save up to $900 with the best smartphone deals for October 2018

Need a better phone but don't want to spend a fortune? It's never a bad time to score a new smartphone and save some cash. We rounded up the best smartphone deals available that can save you as much as $900.
Mobile

Huawei confirms it won't be selling the Mate 20 series in the U.S.

Huawei has released the Mate 20, Mate 20 Pro, and Mate 20 X. With all-new Kirin processors, advanced A.I. brains, and an amazing triple camera, here's absolutely everything you need to know about the new Mate 20 series.
Photography

8 weird, useful camera accessories for your iPhone or Android

With the rise of smartphone cameras comes an explosion of accessories aimed at enhancing your photography skills. Here, we take a look at a few, from add-on grips to entire camera units designed specifically to work with iOS devices.
Mobile

eBay’s new Instant Selling program turns old smartphones into new money

With eBay's new Instant Selling program, selling your smartphone just got easier. Immediately after listing your device, you'll receive a voucher that can be used toward the purchase of a new phone through the site.
Mobile

Razer Phone 2 vs. Red Magic Phone vs. Honor Play: Which gaming phone is best?

Mobile gaming is serious business nowadays. But which high-powered gaming phone is best for you? We pitted the Razer Phone 2 against the Red Magic Phone and the Honor Play to find out which of the three deserves your attention.
Deals

Make some time for the best smartwatch deals for October 2018

Smartwatches make your life easier by sending alerts right on your wrist. Many also provide fitness-tracking features. So if you're ready to take the plunge into wearables and want to save money, read on for the best smartwatch deals.