Along with the launch of the Nexus 5 smartphone, as always, Google also announced the latest Android version – 4.4, dubbed KitKat to continue the delicious naming ritual. If almost all of Nexus 5’s features have been heavily leaked and rumored prior to the release, then Android 4.4 KitKat comes with enough surprises for users and developers, as well.
Android 4.4 KitKat is by no means a small update, and you’ll see that for yourself judging by the good number of new features it brings. Google has released the previous Jelly Bean 4.3 version on 24 July this year. Now, with a little more than three months of waiting, the latest general availability Android 4.4 KitKat software update is here so let’s have a look at the new features that it comes with.
All the new features in Android 4.4 KitKat
Support for low-end smartphone is without a doubt, the biggest feature in Android 4.4 KitKat. A new API developed in KitKat will allow even the earliest Android devices that have at least 512MB of memory available. This is perhaps Google’s most laudable effort to put an end to the fragmentation problem. Android chief Sundar Pichai said the following:
“People generally launch new versions of operating systems and they need more memory. Not with KitKat. We’ve taken it and made it run all the way back on entry level phones. We have one version of the OS that’ll run across all Android smartphones in 2014.”
This is impressive, but not for Galaxy Nexus users, as they won’t be getting the Android 4.4 KitKat update.
Android 4.4 KitKat comes with new dialer, improving contacts search. You can enter the name of the local Starbucks shop and the dialer app will fetch its number automatically for you from the same database that powers Google Maps. Local data is incorporated and the phone will also provide caller ID information for incoming calls. A new auto-populating feature has appeared, adding to your favorites menu the most frequent dialed numbers.
Lock & Home Screen
A number of new features have made their way to the lock and home screen, such as the album art now being displayed full screen behind the lockscreen when music is playing, a new launcher which is Nexus-specific initially. A long-press anywhere on the homescreen will zoom out to let you re-arrange the apps.
Android 4.4 KitKat comes with multiple smaller improvement that taken as a whole contribute to seriously optimizing memory and improving the touchscreen responsiveness. This is indeed a much needed feature as recent reports have shown that the touchscreens used on iPhone 5, iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s have had much better response times.
Updated Hangouts app
Google wants “all your messages in a single place” and that’s why it has updated the Hangouts app to replace the default messaging app and include all of your SMS and MMS messages together in the same app, as well as other conversations and video calls. It also lets you share your location with the Places button and send animated GIFs to your contacts. The true rival to iMessage has finally landed.
New Camera HDR+ software
Currently limited to the Nexus 5 only, the HDR+ photography automatically snaps a rapid burst of photos and lets you choose the best possible single shot. You can do it even during the night, as the pictures are going to have a sharp quality and much less noise than before. I imagine this being highly useful at birthday parties.
Android 4.4 KitKat developers will have the option to add printing to individual apps. At the momeny, any HP wireless printer works with the system, but more manufacturers are expected to join this. But any other printer that supports Google Cloud Print will be able to be used for the improved wireless printing straight from within the apps in Android KitKat.
Android 4.4 KitKat brings the search function be default on every homescreen. It comes with hotwording, so by saying “Okay, Google” just like you’d don on Google Glass, the search functionality will immediately start. The Google Now service thus receive a much needed update. Voice recognition has been improved and added new features such as tapping a word and selecting from a list of alternatives to select from. Natural language and more clarifying questions have also been added.
Google wants to make it easier for developers to create third-party TV controller apps and has included in Android 4.4 KitKat new APIs to help devs with that. This feature will work on KitKat device that come with an infrared blaster. Soon, your Android smartphone or tablet will become a TV remote without having to rely on other third-party apps.
Translucent user interface
The look of Android 4.4 KitKat changes, coming with a full-on translucent skin and a flat white color code. The wallpaper and user interface elements come with translucent gradients, as well. The new launcher comes with translucency effects on the navigation bar and on the top notification bar, but we’ll understand how this really looks like only with the first hands-on.
The new feature called Host Card Emulation (HCE) in Android 4.4 KitKat is the one that actually lets any device with a NFC chip inside to pair up with NFC apps for payment. This is a much expected and very simple feature that is definitely going to give a serious boost to NFC contactless paments. A new Reader Mode has also been included in Android 4.4 KitKat, letting apps to be used as readers for HCE cards.
With Android 4.4 KitKat Google has introduced the full-screen immersive mode. This means that there is going to be a new user interface if you so choose, that will hide all the other UI elements. When you need them, just pull up or down to get them back. To put it more simple, it “automatically hides everything except what you really want to see”, like Google says. Now you can read books, play games and watch movies without being distracted.
Android 4.4 KitKat brings the ability to create high-quality video directly from your Android device. Support for screen recording has been added and also a new screen recording utility has been made available. It captures video and stores it in MP4 file format. Any device-supported resolution and bitrate can be used. This feature is especially great for tutorials and walkthroughs.
Ability to work with QuickOffice and to save files to cloud apps such as Google Drive has been added in Android 4.4 KitKat. You also get quick access to recently used files from different cloud storage services. This is also great as developers will be able to create a client app that manages files or documents and integrate it with the storage access framework.
More Bluetooth profiles
Google has rolled out Bluetooth 4.0 LE support with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, and with Android 4.4 KitKat, it improves it by letting Android apps interact with more Bluetooth-enabled devices. KitKat will offer support for more Bluetooth profiles including Bluetooth HID over GATT (“gives apps a low-latency with low-power peripheral devices such as mice, joysticks and keyboards”), Bluetooth MAP (“exchange messages with a nearby device”) and an extension to Bluetooth AVRCP 1.3 (which will let users “set absolute volume on the system from their Bluetooth devices”).
Low Power sensor batching
The hardware sensor batching in Android 4.4 KitKat allows optimization of tasks that would normally chew your battery life. Chris Burns with SlashGear explains:
This sort of batching allows your processor to remain in low-power idle states until each new batch is delivered. This mode works in a vital way with low-power, long-running processes such as the monitoring and tracking of sports and fitness statistics. If you’re walking and detecting your steps – this system will chew essentially no power from here on out. Sensor Batching requires that Google work with chipset partners to integrate with individual devices
Maybe I’m not being accurate here, but this is somehow reminiscent of Apple’s use of the M7 co-processor.
Android 4.4 KitKat brings multiple enhancements in the audio segment, like the device-specific Audio Tunneling to DSP that will decrease the amount of power used, which means it will save your battery life. It thus adds 50 percent more playback time (which meansup to 60 hours on Nexus 5). New music visualizers have been included as well as a compressor to increase loudness on speech that is also helping in voice recognition.
Support for wearable devices
We’ve talked above about the step counting function that will now make you rely more on your Android 4.4 device than other third-party apps or device. But, in the same time, this means that Android brings support for wearable devices not only with step detectors and step counters but also with geomagnetic rotation.
Emoji characters are part of the Hangouts app update that we’ve talked above but for messaging lovers, this is an important feature that deserve to be talked about separately. Emoji support is finally built-in to your software keyboard with Android 4.4 KitKat. The colorful Japanese characters are now available and I’m positive they’re going to spice up your conversations.
Bluetooth MAP support
This isn’t promoted as an important application, but I think that it’s going to make quite an impact when properly used. Android 4.4 KitKat now supports the Message Access Profile (MAP) which means that Bluetooth-enabled cars can exchange messages with your devices. Which further means, from what I understand, is that you’ll be able to send different kind of text to your car’s dashboard to be displayed.
Chromecast is a new device from Google that lets you get content from online entertainment service such as Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, and Google Play on your HDTV. While this feature isn’t necessarily new, its addition and support has been confirmed and you can now use your Android 4.4 KitKat device to listen to music, project movies to Chromecast, see full-screen albums and play, pause, or seek whenever you want to.
Android 4.4 KitKot now supports closed captioning and subtitles. You can turn on closed captioning, by going to Settings > Accessibility and turning on Caption from there. Captions will be in white text over a black block and you will be able to change language and text size.
Device management built-in
If you lose your Android device or if somebody steals it from, you can use the the Android Device Manager functionality to find it or wipe its contents. Now, this much needed function that rivals the Find my iPhone feature in Apple’s smartphone, is built-in straight into Android 4.4 KitKat.
Step counting built-in
There are so many fitness apps and devices out there that Google realized it needed to do something and act quick to keep users relying on Android’s own feature. KitKat now brings the functionality that will let your phone act as a pedometer to count steps. Google also says that Android 4.4 makes this feature battery-friendly, as well.
Wi-Fi Certified Miracast
Android 4.4 KitKat smartphones and tablets devices are going to be Miracast compatible. You will be able to enable the option at Settings > Developer options > Wireless display certification. This means that if you have a Miracast-certified TV and a Miracast compatible device, like the Nexus 5, you should be able to see on your TV pictures and videos.
Email and downloads app refresh
The Downloads app and the Email app have been redesigned with the advent of Android 4.4 KitKat. The Downloads app comes with a new sorting options, such as list and grid views for all the files that you’ve downloaded. The revamped Email app comes with nested folders, contact photos and better navigation.
Other new features in Android 4.4 KitKat
- Chrome web view – apps that embed web content now use Chrome to render web components
- Easy home screen switching – switch between homescreen replacements in Settings > Home
- Full-screen wallpapers with preview – when you change your wallpaper, you can preview just how it will look
- Location in Quick Settings – access your location settings from anywhere with a new tile in Quick Settings
- Location modes and monitoring – conserve battery to switch between high accuracy and battery-saving location modes
- Secure app sandboxes – application sandboxes have been hardened with Security-Enhanced Linux
- VPN security enhancement – n multiuser devices, VPNs are now applied per user aallow a user to route all network traffic through a VPN without affecting other users on the device