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What's inside Android 4.4 KitKat and why you should care

Armando Rodriguez and Florence Ion | Nov. 1, 2013
Some features announced in KitKat include the newly revamped interface, new messaging features in the Hangouts app, and optimisation updates to help KitKat run on low-end phones.

Indeed, by enabling easier access to Google Now, third-party manufacturers like Samsung won't be able to hide it behind its own proprietary services. (Ever try to get to Google Now on a Galaxy S 4, only to be defaulted to S-Voice?) Google just wants you to stick with it for all of your queries.

Hangouts

Finally! A few days ago, Google updated its Hangouts app to let you send both SMS, MMS, and chat messages from one application. It's the right idea, but Google is merely playing catch-up, since Apple released the all-encompassing Messages application in iOS 6 over a year ago. Google wrote in its official blog post that its intention for combining all the communication functionality into one was for added convenience.

Faster Android for aging phones

Okay, so maybe your hardware isn't exactly top tier compared to the ones running quad-core Snapdragon processors and massive amounts of memory. Google understands your plight and has introduced a new way for manufacturers to take advantage of all the latest Android features without the typical slow downs that plague most aging hardware.

It's called Project Svelte and it's designed to make KitKat run smoothly and efficiently even on low-end devices with as little as 512MB of RAM. As a result, Kit Kat uses 16 percent less memory than its predecessor, Jelly Bean, and there are additional features that allow developer to disable any features that use up more memory than needed.

This may help developers make apps for low-end devices, but that doesn't necessarily mean that all old hardware will be able to run KitKat. Not even the Galaxy Nexus will be eligible for an update, and that device is barely a year and a half old. However, the under-the-hood improvements should help the current generation of devices handle applications a bit better, like the now-aging Nexus 7 and Nexus 4. This means an overall smoother Android experience if you're running those devices.

Under-the-hood enhancements

You may not reap the benefits of some of the other features just yet, but that's because they're intended for developers to embed into applications.

If you walk to work everyday, you might appreciate that Google introduced a nifty new low-power step detector that enables you to track the number of steps you walk in a day without having to leave the screen on. Developers can also take advantage of system-wide captioning abilities that can display closed captions for various content, which is a nice enhancement for the hearing impaired—and when you want to watch a video but don't headphones nearby.

As for that printer collecting dust in the corner, if it's Google Print-compatible you can now send documents directly to it with the built-in cloud print functionality. Android apps can print anything over Wi-Fi or from cloud-hosted services. You can also discover any available printers, change paper sizes, and choose specific pages to print.

 

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