Thank goodness—we can finally put to rest to all of the rumors and speculation. Google pulled the curtain on Android 4.4 KitKat Thursday, announcing the new mobile OS will appear first in the forthcoming Nexus 5 handset, which goes on sale for $349.
While we weren't expecting a hefty update, some of the features announced in KitKat—like the newly revamped interface and new messaging features in the Hangouts app—were on our wish list. Other features, like optimization updates to help KitKat run on low-end phones, simply remind us that Google is still battling all the issues that lead to device fragmentation.
Regardless, let's walk through some of the key features of KitKat and what you can expect when you finally get your hands on the new OS (whenever that is, because as we know, Android updates can take a long time to roll out).
A better phone dialer
You wouldn't expect an overhaul of a dialer application to be a marquee feature, but Google has achieved the near impossible. When you're in the dialer interface, now you can type just the first few letters of who or what you're looking for—whether it's a business or a friend—and the dialer will immediately bring it up. You won't have to venture into Contacts for this essential information.
If this search functionality sounds familiar, that's because some manufacturers already offer this feature in their own version of the Android dialer. Samsung's TouchWiz UI, for example, helps you find the name of the person you want to call by letting you key in the first few letters of his or her name on the number pad. So perhaps the bigger news isn't that Google overhauled its dialer applications, but that it's looking to what third-parties are doing to give consumers what they want.
KitKat also provides a novel form of caller ID, fetching the location information of unknown numbers that call you to provide a better glimpse into who might be calling and where they're located. This is an especially helpful addition when you consider the number of telemarketer calls that aren't routed through an 800 number.
Fabulous interface makeover
Stock Android doesn't have to be plain and simple. As some developers posited in our Android retrospective, KitKat includes a slightly revamped interface design. You'll see better use of screen real-estate in applications that utilize the new "immersive" full-screen abilities, like Google Music and Books. And the new navigation bar is now translucent, so your wallpaper won't be cropped by a colored menu bar. KitKat also sports a new condensed font.
Unfortunately, these interface changes won't necessarily be exposed on non Nexus devices—meaning pretty much the entire universe of Android hardware. You'll still be held hostage to whatever interface the manufacturer wants you to look at if you're not using the developer edition of a phone.
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