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Google Unveils Android 4.4 KitKat and the
The new Android has lots more features -- but
fits into less memory.
Until now, the main thing we’ve known for
sure about the next version of Google ‘s
Android mobile operating system is its name:
KitKat. But at a media event this morning,
Google provided its first detailed walkthrough
of the update’s features. And it did so on the
Nexus 5 , the latest “pure Google” phone,
developed in partnership with LG, which it will
sell in unlocked form via the Google Play
As usual, the new Nexus, which has a 5-inch
display and is shipping today in a 16GB version
for $349 and a 32GB one for $399, no
contract required, is the first phone to get the
new version of Android, and it offers it at a
strikingly low price for a serious unlocked
smartphone. But Google is also releasing KitKat
to the Android developer community today,
and says that additional phones from other
makers will get it next year.
There’s a lot that’s new in KitKat, but the item
which Android and Chrome honcho Sundar
Pichai began with is something you probably
won’t notice or care about if you’re the type
who buys high-end smartphones such as the
Nexus 5. As part of Google’s aim to reach “the
next billion people,” Pichai said, KitKat is
designed to fit into 512MB of RAM, the skimpy
allotment provided by lower-end phones,
especially those sold in emerging economies.
The core operating system and Google apps
such as Chrome are svelter than before, and
KitKat can alert third-party apps that memory
is tight so they can fall back into more
At the moment, Pichai said, price-constrained
handsets often use Gingerbread, a three-year-
old version of Android, purely because of
memory constraints. If future ones can
support the latest version of Android, it might
go a long way towards solving the
fragmentation which has left the operating
system a less consistent, up-to-date platform
than Apple‘s iOS.
Contrary to recent rumors — not that they
usually mean much — Google made no
mention of a new tablet or smartwatch at the
Here’s a list of some of the other features
Google showed off at its event, a few of which
will be exclusive to the Nexus 5 (at least at
A sleeker look. Google has cleaned up the
Android interface, with visual tweaks like
beefier support for full-screen mode and more
translucency effects. You can shuffle home
screens around by dragging and dropping
them, and Google search, in both its typed and
spoken forms, is more quickly available from
any home screen.
A Web-connected dialer. You can now search
for phone numbers, such as ones for local
businesses, directly from the Android dialer;
Google will look them up on the Net for you.
It’ll also use Caller ID to show you an image of
a business when it calls you.
Search within apps. In a feature that’ll roll
out in November, Google search will be able to
index and link to information within Android
applications, allowing it to provide unified
results which take you both to sites and apps.
This will allow you to search for a recipe, for
instance, and get links to both versions on the
Web and ones within a recipe app. At first, this
feature will work with apps from 10 partners
— including Etsy, Expedia, IMDb, OpenTable
and others — with more to come.
More conversational spoken search. In a
feature similar to ones offered by the Moto X
and newest Verizon Droids, you can say “OK
Google” and then speak a search term or other
vocalized action. Google will then ask you
questions if necessary to clarify your intent; if
you say “Call Jennifer,” for instance, it’ll ask
which Jennifer you mean, and whether you
want her mobile number or landline. Google
also says that it’s managed to make its speech
recognition 25% more accurate in the past
Google Now enhancements. This feature,
which uses cards to show you information you
might think is important before you’ve actually
asked for it, will now display articles and site
updates based on what it knows about your
interests from your Web searches. In some
cases, it’ll also show cards based on your
location and what other people commonly look
for when they’re in the same place — for
instance, a schedule of geyser eruptions if
you’re standing near Old Faithful.
Fancier photography. A new feature called
HDR+ will take a flurry of photos, then use
high-dynamic range technology to combine
them, allowing for better images in tricky
lighting situations and less motion blur.
Smarter storage. If you do something such as
add a photo to an e-mail, you get a new image
browser which shows local images, ones stored
on Google Drive and ones which reside on
third-party services, such as Box.
Text and MMS in Google Hangouts. Google’s
communications app now lets you do texting,
and will let you quickly send a map of your
location. The Google keyboard now includes
dozens of the high-end graphical emoticons
known as emoji.
Wireless printing. Android has new printer
features which let apps automatically support
HP printers and any printer which works with
Google CloudPrint, with more models to come.
That’s a lot to chew on, and a lot of it plays to
Google’s strengths, including search and other
technologies which rely on fast access to
massive amounts of data on the Web. More
thoughts to come once I’ve tried it for myself.