The latest, KitKat-flavored version of Android is just around the corner, with the release of the new operating system expected to be announced this month. So, what can we realistically expect from the Android 4.4 OS?
Updates to Android have come quickly recently, with smaller updates to the operating system arriving consistently since 4.1 Jelly Bean. Since these incremental updates aren’t included in Google’s “official” history of the operating system, Android 4.4 shouldn’t be a big step either.
Based on the rumors currently doing the rounds, here’s what could be new in Android 4.4 KitKat:
Theoretically Android 4.4 will be optimized to run on lower amounts of RAM, reportedly 512 MB, allowing older devices and lower-end Android devices to possibly run the operating system. There will still be manufacturer versions of Android 4.4 coming from Samsung and HTC, but this will allow for more devices to support the OS.
Google Play Services as the backbone of Android
Google Play Services is already working on fragmentation of Android with support for Android 2.2 and higher. As Honeycomb (3.0) dies out, Gingerbread (2.3) is losing ground to Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) and Jelly Bean ending with 4.3, KitKat may be a restart.
With KitKat’s supposed smaller operating costs, Google Play Services could become the backbone of the Android operating system. Disabling the Google Play Services will disconnect all Google connectivity making many of these apps break.
Since Google Play Services can push updates in the background without requiring user permissions, this is a possible sign that the app is going to be more important than the OS itself.
Printing and Payments
Gadget Helpline reportedly got an early release of the OS and found some new features. An expected feature is the ability to save to PDF and wireless printing from the Android device. It’s currently possible to connect to printers in Chrome through Google Cloud Print, but now it will be possible to print documents from the device directly. The feature isn’t something really dramatic or even necessary, but it may be good for productivity.
Another new addition is support for NFC payments. As Google Wallet‘s original release required NFC to make payments (but never found success), adding built-in NFC payments seems strange. The carrier-supported payment system ISIS still hasn’t launched and has basically lost all support.
Hangouts unifies messaging
Hangouts will get text messaging integration. While this probably won’t be built into only 4.4, Hangouts could replace the stock messaging app currently in stock Android and unify Hangouts contacts and phone contacts. Like Facebook Messenger, Hangouts could be the main point of contact for all messaging on the device, made even easier if the contact is also in Hangouts.
Quickoffice as a stock app
A new app rumored to be built into the OS is Quickoffice. So instead of making documents through Google Drive, Quickoffice will be the direct solution with syncing to Drive, as reported by Gadget Helpline.
Restricted accounts on smartphones
Android 4.2 contained multiple user accounts for tablets and Android 4.3 introduced Restricted Profiles. Smartphones still don’t support any type of multiple user support, but Android 4.4 could finally introduce a parental mode so kids can’t access certain apps or make purchases through Google Play.
Android 4.3 extended the functionality of notifications, making them expandable and actionable, which has opened the door for third party apps. Apps still haven’t really figured out how to use them. It would be nice to see more apps use notifications as a better tool for the user experience, rather than want to force them to open the app.
Support for accessories
Google has dropped the price of the Nexus 4, in an apparent bid to empty stock, and in the reveal video of the new Android KitKat statue at Google, other sites found a possible leak of the Nexus 5, which will launch with Android 4.4. It’s believed that the phone in the video is the Nexus 5 because it copies the same landscape logo design that the new Nexus 7 carries.
Aside from new devices, the release of Android 4.4 could be the sign that Google wants to release its own smartwatch. It bought WIMM Labs in Summer 2012 and there was research going on in Google about smartphone-connected fitness bands.
Given that the Chromecast runs a simplified version of Android, the Google smartwatch will likely run a customized version as well. This could result in another ecosystem of apps designed for communication between an Android device and the smartwatch.
The release of Android 4.4 should include better integration for Google’s wearable products and the Chromecast. Like previous versions of Android, there will likely be improvements to the system framework and updates to fix bugs and provide other enhancements. Google’s I/O announcement showed that work is being done to reduce the fragmentation of the Android operating system. By allowing the Google Play Services app to silently update to improve the OS, Google has taken a large step forward.
The Chromecast app could also see more integration into the Android OS. There aren’t a lot of supported apps for the Chromecast, but possibly Android 4.4 will allow you to cast other apps like Google Docs and see the support of other streaming apps that are built into the current firmware.
There is also the possibility that 4.4 will allow people to cast their Android device to TVs. A wasted potential is the ability to cast games to larger screens, so games could theoretically be displayed on a TV while controlling it through an Android device.
Creating a better ecosystem with Android 4.4
As a 0.1 step for the operating system, huge updates aren’t really expected. As Google’s apps exist outside of the core operating system environment, those apps can be updated through Google Play. What’s more important is delivering improved features and offering more usability with the upcoming OS. There will always be a wishlist for functions that Android users are hoping for, but what Android really needs now is to connect its devices together into one ecosystem.
Here’s the rundown of what should be expected:
- Smaller installation
- More focus on Google Play Services
- Printing from Android and wireless payments
- Hangouts as the standard messaging app and Quickoffice becomes a stock app
- Expanded notification usage
- Chromecast support expands to more apps
- Parental controls for Android smartphones
- Cast Android to Chromecast
- Google smartwatch released with new app ecosystem
The update in Android 4.4 isn’t going to be dramatic, but when Google officially announces KitKat’s best features it will likely be accepted as another good improvement for the OS and not something radically different.
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