The five things you need to know about Android 4.4: KitKat

The five things you need to know about Android 4.4: KitKat

Summary: The latest version of Google's Android Linux-based operating system is out. Here's what you need to know about it today.


Just in time for Halloween, Google has given us a new candy mobile operating system treat: Android 4.4: KitKat. Here's what you need to know about it now.

Say hi to KitKat, Google's newest version of Android.
(Image: Google)

1. KitKat's not widely available yet

KitKat comes on the just-released Nexus 5. If you want to use it today on an older smartphone or tablet, you're out of luck.

Google promises that it will soon be available on the Nexus 4, 7, and 10, the Samsung Galaxy S4, and the HTC One Google Play edition in the coming weeks as an over-the-air (OTA) update. If you're running a Nexus device, you'll also be able to flash the new Android's image to your tablet or smartphone. At this time, the evening of October 31, the KitKat images aren't available. However, if you're an Android developer, KitKat source code is available now.

If you're not a programmer, or you don't have one of the supported devices, technically speaking, you should still be able to run KitKat on many older devices. That's because Android 4.4 can run on devices with as little as 512MB of RAM.

Whether you really will be able to easily get the update for your gear is a question that depends on your carrier and your phone manufacturer. If your device is older than 18 months, I wouldn't count on ever getting Android 4.4. If that's you, your only hope is for CyanogenMod or another Android porter to bring the firmware to older devices.

2. Google Now integrated even deeper into KitKat

With Google Now, Google uses all it knows about you, which is a lot, and makes it even more a part of the Android experience. According to Google, all you have to do is say "'OK, Google' to launch voice search, send a text, get directions, or even play a song you want to hear". Android 4.4 is a big step forward towards making devices that are not merely touch activated, but also voice activated. We can see the future of both Google Glass and smart watches from here.

3. Improved phone app

I know how 20th century of me it is to want to use a smartphone as a phone, but darn it, sometime I do, and Android 4.4 makes it easier. Google is "making calling easier than ever, by helping you search across your contacts, nearby places, or even Google Apps accounts (like your company’s directory), directly from within the app".

In a related development, Google+ Hangouts, which is also more closely tied into KitKat and replaces Google Talk, includes texting, location sharing, and animated GIFs. This functionality will be available in any device running Android 4.x or higher. Eventually, Google Voice, Google's voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) service, will work with this, but for now, Google Voice and new Hangouts are having trouble cooperating with each other.

4. Better memory management

Google did more than just reduce Android's 4.x's memory footprint. "KitKat streamlines every major component to reduce memory use and introduces new APIs and tools to help you create innovative, responsive, memory-efficient applications."

This more efficient use of memory will show to its best advantage as KitKat starts to catch on and developers start building apps that can take full advantage of it. For users, this will mean your applications will run faster, and switching from one program to another will go faster.

5. Quickoffice integration

First, Google bought Quickoffice, an Android-based office suite. Then, Google made Quickoffice free. Now, Android 4.4 will come with Quickoffice pre-installed.

With the latest Quickoffice, you can create and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files; access files in Google Drive and on your device; open and view PDF files; and attach files to emails. Does it sound to you like Google is targeting Microsoft Office on tablets? It sure does to me.

Android 4.4 has many other noteworthy features — better printer support, smart caller ID, support for multiple local and cloud storage services, and, at long last, native screen recording — but you get the idea. While Android 4.4 isn't a revolutionary update, it's certainly one that's filled with goodies. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to compile the source code and flash my Nexus 7 with it.

Related stories:

Topics: Mobility, Android, Google, Linux, Mobile OS, Software Development

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  • Launcher

    I'm more interested in whether they are actually going to make the Kitkat 'launcher' available on Google Play for devices that manufacturers are not pushing updates to.
  • Another thing to know....

    I'm not getting it since I have a Galaxy Nexus.
    Michael Alan Goff
    • Galaxy Nexus can run 4.4 also.

      If you root your Galaxy Nexus there are MANY ROMs out there, including almost stock ROM, available for Galaxy Nexus. Look at the gen2 Nexus S. Google dropped support for it back in 2012, but there's plenty of 4.3 ROMs available for it from developers.

      Some ROMs have minimal customization (almost stock), others add genuinely innovative features. Your choice.

      I have two Galaxy Nexus, for me and my wife. I just bought a Nexus 5 yesterday, but she's keeping her Galaxy Nexus. We will both be running 4.4 KitKat.
      • I most certainly will be as well

        thanks to Cyanogenmod.

        That being said, Google is once again proving how bad they are at this.
        Michael Alan Goff
  • If Android would have flopped .....

    SJVN will have perfectly blamed it on Java, but now he is all jumping with joy ! After all these years of Linux desktop he has something other to hold on to ....

    ye ye, I know its the kernel but ever wondered why it could never make its mark on the desktop?
    • How would you know if "Linux made a mark on the desktop"?

      Certainly not by the horribly flawed NetMarketShare numbers that only count 3 distros.
  • Are Android updates only for the wealthy?

    Updates seem to be fore those that purchase new equipment only. I'd bet that less than .001% of Android users have the technical ability to install a new version of Android, so unless the vendor does it for them, no updates.

    Therefore, the only way to get updates is to PURCHASE new hardware. With the speed of upgrades in Android, that's quite expensive.

    If you want updates to your OS, it's actually cheaper to buy Apple products!
    • total bull

      Android updates come to many devices, but to Nexus devices first as they run pure Android.
    • For the wealthy?

      Nexus devices aren't overly expensive.

      You can even save money by using one on an MVNO.

      You just pretty much have to buy one every two Nexus devices, or maybe root it and throw on your favorite ROM. Neither are great options, really.
      Michael Alan Goff
      • It seems to be for the wealthy

        As I said in another post, I'm on my 4th Android tablet, starting at Android 2.0. Each got a couple updates then the vendor stopped. Having spent around $700 against my wife's $400 for an iPad that is still going strong, the iPad is much more cost effective and cheaper. Android seems to be for the rich as all the bull about being cheaper is just that, bull.

        In the android world, the only way to get updates is to buy new equipment. That isn't bull, it's the way Android vendors work.

        As for rooting it, no thanks. If you'd read the original post, that was one of the main issues as less than .0001% of users have the technical skill to root and load a current version of Android.

        Yes, Android is really for the rich that can replace every year to get updates.
        • All mobile devices only get a few years of OS updates

          Even Apple stops updating iPhones, despite both the hardware and software coming from them. That is par for the course for mobile devices. Perhaps when we finally get more mature OSes, we will see more stability.
          • Apple provides support much longer than any Android vendor

            So your argument falls apart there. If an Android vendor provides one or two updates, that's considered good in the Android world. Apple gives multiple updates for years to come, literally until the hardware can't deal with the new OS requirements.

            Also consider that my "New" Asus tablet, which overall I'm very happy with, has given me "Launcher Stopped" errors twice in five days. I've never seen that type of error on the iPad.

            Android quality still lacks.
    • Carrier / Manufacturer's fault

      Google and Android aren't the cause of this problem. Manufacturers and carriers both modify the stock Android for their own evil bidding. Doing so prevents Android updates from installing correctly. Manufacturers and carriers know this, and preventing the updates causes consumers to buy new products and renew contracts which partially subsidize the device cost - but that "subsidy" is built into the contract pricing. Google carefully oversees Nexus device manufacturers to ensure that the pure Android experience is maintained, which better enables smooth updates. The contract-free pricing of the Nexus 5 makes it hard to beat, and relatively easy to switch carriers without long-term contracts and early termination fees.
      • Google most certainly IS at fault

        the allow the carriers to modify Android. One of the unrecognized breakthroughs Apple accomplished with the iPhone was to turn carriers into nothing more than data pipes.
        • One of the recognised "breakthroughs"...

          ...Apple foisted on fanbois like you is 100% vertical integration lockin and monopoly pricing.
          • But is Android cost effective?

            Good question -

            I'm on my 4th Android tablet. I've spent in the neighborhood of $700 on all of the devices and hope the latest purchased last Wednesday will last a while. The previous models didn't do all that well in the test of time.

            My wife is still using her iPad II purchased a couple years ago and has no complaints. About $400 for that one.

            Me thinks that cost effective means more than initial purchase price. Apple may have vertical lock in, but Android needs stability and quality.
        • Apple also controls the hardware

          Samsung has been able to keep carriers from meddling a lot with their designs, but only Apple has the clout to deliver devices as they want to since they completely control both the OS and the hardware. Phone makers need flexibility to get their phones carried. And since Android is made freely available, how could Google restrict what manufacturers decide to do?
          • basic flaw in Android control

            You are quite correct, once the hardware vendor applies Android to their device, Google loses control.

            Depending on your goals, that could be considered a basic flaw in the operating system planning, updating and control systems. You guarantee that Android 4.3 on a given device really isn't Android 4.3 as released by Google, but the tweaked version as distributed by the vendor.

            So, on the fragmentation chart, each vendor now has a version of Android 4.3 that is their very own. You remember from the Linux world, "Roll your own distro"? Well, every hardware vendor "Rolls their own Android Distro".

            Makes quite a mess out of it.
    • we can click update just like you..

      and for those that can't, its the carrier's wall garden approach that prevents it. And there's no guarantee that Verizon will allow you to update your iPhone either
    • Like iOS7?

      Didn't I hear that iOS7 updates has broke Wifi on most every phone that updated? No Thanks.

      I fully expect my Nexus phone and tablet to get 4.4 over the next couple of months. Waiting is no problem, since I don't pay anything for the update.

      Meanwhile, I am still waiting for my free XP to Vista/7/8 update. Been waiting 5 years so far.