Android 4.4 is officially here alongside and inside the Google Nexus 5. Ahead of launch there was plenty of speculation about both the handset and Google’s confectionary-baiting software update. So what’s new inside the latest build of Android 4.4? Quite a bit as it goes… Google has reworked the UX, added in better support for low-end hardware, and tweaked many of Android’s core elements.
Here are some of Android 4.4's best bits...
Better VisualsApplications and games can now use the entirety of the display with 4.4, meaning no more notifications bar and no more battery icon. Just full screen applications and games. Android’s UI now stays hidden whenever you’re interacting with content.
SensorsLike Apple’s M7 coprocessor, Android KitKat now wants to know more about what you do and where you are. To enable this Google has enabled hardware sensor batching inside 4.4, a feature that makes sensors far less power hungry.
“Android works with the device hardware to collect and deliver sensor events efficiently in batches, rather than individually as they are detected. This lets the device's application processor remain in a low-power idle state until batches are delivered. You can request batched events from any sensor using a standard event listener, and you can control the interval at which you receive batches.”
PerformanceThis is the big one –– Android 4.4 will run on handsets with just 512MB of RAM. That’s right, people: KitKat will theoretically run on the HTC Hero, a handset that came out almost three years ago!
KitKat streamlines every major component to reduce memory use and introduces new APIs and tools to help developers create more memory-efficient applications.
“OEMs building the next generation of Android devices can take advantage of targeted recommendations and options to run Android 4.4 efficiently, even on low-memory devices. Dalvik JIT code cache tuning, kernel samepage merging (KSM), swap to zRAM, and other optimizations help manage memory.”
Cloud printingIt’s not a deal breaker by any means but you can now print using Google Cloud Print via your Android 4.4-powered handset and/or tablet. Google has opened up the APIs to developers, so expect support inside most of the big name apps inside Google Play very soon.
“Android 4.4 introduces native platform support for printing, along with APIs for managing printing and adding new types of printer support. The platform provides a print manager that mediates between apps requesting printing and installed print services that handle print requests.”
“The print manager provides shared services and a system UI for printing, giving users consistent control over printing from any app. The print manager also ensures the security of content as it's passed across processes, from an app to a print service.”
Faster MultitaskingAndroid 4.4 features a raft of back-end tweaks aimed at improving the overall performance and speed with which you handset computes tasks. Google has further optimised memory inside Android 4.4 –– it can now run on just 512MB of RAM –– and touchscreen response is better, too.
The end result is a smoother UX, faster loading applications and a significant bump in multitasking performance. Android was pretty decent at running multiple apps before –– say, Spotify and Chrome and email. With KitKat it'll be even better.
Smart Caller ID
KitKat takes things further. When you receive a call from an unknown number –– like a business or a pizza delivery guy, for instance –– KitKat will scan Google Maps for an appropriate image and, if it can find one, use it for the caller ID. The idea is to give you a better idea of who is calling you.
The “OK Google” commandThe Moto X could do it and now so can Android KitKat. Navigate to Settings, turn the feature on and say “Okay Google” and watch Google Now magically appear before your eyes on your handset's display –– no touching required.
You can ask it about the weather, for directions, theatre times, and sports scores. Or, you can get it to play a certain song, text a friend, or make a phone call.
Hangouts is the new SMS
You can even share your location with the new Hangouts and send animated GIFs.
Screen recordingScreen-grabs are one thing but having the ability to capture real-time video of what’s happening on your droid’s display is another thing entirely. With Android KitKat this is now a reality, and all saved content is stored on your device as an MP4 file.
“By default, the utility selects a resolution equal or close to the device's display resolution in the current orientation. When you are done recording, you can share the video directly from your device or pull the MP4 file to your host computer for post-production.”
Built in support for IR blasters“Android 4.4 introduces platform support for built-in IR blasters, along with a new API and system service that let you create apps to take advantage them.”
That means all new Android handsets, providing they have latent IR functionality, can be used to control a myriad of devices including your HDTV and stereo.
And because the API is open to developers there’s likely to be all kinds of IR Blaster features added to current and upcoming applications and content inside Google Play.
That’s it for now, but we’ll update this piece with more information once we’ve had a play with Android 4.4 properly. In the mean time why not check out all the Nexus 5 details –– it’s a god damn monster!