It’s probably fitting that Google finally launched Android OS 4.4, dubbed KitKat, on Halloween, a day when many future Androiders were receiving snack sized versions of the popular chocolaty treat. The big question is, are the new features a trick, or a treat?
To be fair, while there aren’t too many out and out tricks, there are a few items whose appeal will be limited.
You may remember the release of the Moto X some months back, including the ability to say “OK Google Now” out loud at any point to get the phone to perform a task or a search. Now, that’s being implemented right into the operating system, but seemingly only when you’re on the home screen or already in Google Now. According to android.com’s breakdown of the new features, it looks like this will only be available on the Nexus 5 at launch.
There’s also a new view mode known as Immersive Mode. Think of it as full-screen for your phone or tablet, maximizing your current app and eliminating all of the other Android cruft that generally sits at the edge of your screen (like the notifications bar, time, etc.). When you’re done immersing yourself, you can swipe the edge of the screen to get back to the standard view.
One new feature that pleasantly surprises me: a few weeks back I sent a tweet about how I’d love it if my phone automatically looked up incoming phone numbers that weren’t already in my phone book. Well, it looks like KitKat does just that. Now, a search request is sent out when the call comes in, and information (if any is available) should appear at the top of the screen. It’s likely that this was already in the works when the idea occurred to me, but just to make myself feel important, I’ll go ahead and pretend that Google fulfilled my request.
For the business users, there are a couple of killer new features in KitKat. The first is a beefing up of Cloud Print capabilities right from within the OS, making it easier than ever to get printouts directly from your phone or tablet. There’s also better integration of Google Drive, allowing you to save files to (or retrieve them from) your Drive using third-party apps. Combining this with the enhanced printing capability, you have a much more capable mobile office right in the palm of your hand.
The previously-released Android Device Manager app has now been integrated directly into the operating system, giving users or IT Managers better control over what to do with lost or stolen devices.
Maybe less useful to business users will be the new cross-app Emoji (for those who just can’t live without putting a birthday cake icon into their email) or the new Hangouts app, which funnels both phone- and web-based messaging into a single location.
One other interesting item buried a bit further down the features list is Google’s new open-architecture for NFC payments, which will allow you to tap your phone on NFC-ready interfaces at retail outlets. This should work with Google wallet or other compatible third-party apps. I’ll be keeping an eye on this.
Now the catch: KitKat will start rolling out to devices over the next couple of weeks, with Google’s Nexus devices getting the first crack. Though it’s worth noting that the Galaxy Nexus will not be among the devices officially getting the update – it will be rolling out to the Nexus 4, the Nexus 7 and the Nexus 10. Though, keep an eye open, as resourceful Android lovers have already hacked together a version of KitKat that will run on the Galaxy Nexus, if you’re willing to use a third-party ROM.
As for those of you on devices that don’t come directly from the mothercorp, cross your fingers and hope that it doesn’t take too long.