Officially, we know one thing about Android’s upcoming 4.4 build: they’ve traded in the Key Lime Pie for a KitKat Bar. Other than that, all we know is there’s a ton of speculation surrounding Google’s new OS and its rumored late October roll out.
We spoke with Brian Tsai and other Android developers about the features they expect to see within KitKat’s layers, and where the OS will stand in the current mobile landscape.
KitKat is destined to have some fairly hefty changes to justify the switch from 4.3 to 4.4, but don’t expect them to alter Android as we know it. “I think KitKat may be less about new functionalities and more about how to make the best of Android available to more people on more devices,” Tsai says. This opinion corresponds with a quote from Google outlining plans to make the operating system more accessible “for everybody.”
Other sources point to similar goals for Google and Android. A recent article says the OS could feature a new Linux kernel, which would support a service called Device Tree. This program would allow device makers to utilize a master ROM across several types of hardware, “even if they have different SoCs.” Speculation? Sure, but it falls right in line with Google’s apparent plans to fight fragmentation.
Since the release of iPhone iOS 7, “flat” design has become all the rage. If recently leaked images are true, KitKat is following suit. Google’s biggest changes with KitKat are coming in the form of flattened icons and brighter color schemes, something Consulting Architect Caldwell Shine considers a nod to cross-platform developers.
“If the cost of producing two designs is too high because not enough commonalities exist between the two platforms, then it’s possible that customers of [development] shops may favor one platform over another,” he says. Keeping things consistent, in other words, makes it easier for developers to peddle their wares on two different operating systems.
Tsai adds the stock version of Android “has been flat or flatter than iOS for quite some time,” and that the recent changes introduced in iOS 7 actually made Apple’s mobile OS “more Android-like.” Whatever the reason behind Google’s forthcoming visual changes, it’s clear Android and iOS users can expect a flatter look from their devices.
Feature-wise, leaked KitKat builds — many of them still sporting the Key Lime Pie name — have been far from game-changing. Perhaps the biggest addition comes by way of mobile payments. A recent NDTV update says a new feature will “bring wireless NFC payment to Android devices without depending on third-party apps.” This is a potentially huge change for existing services like Google Wallet.
Other potential additions could include Miracast, a feature designed to share content on larger screens, such as televisions and computer monitors. Advanced photo-editing capabilities are another widely speculated enhancement.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there are no mind-blowing features in KitKat,” says Android developer, Mustafa Ali. “Reducing fragmentation is much more important today than adding new features, and they have been making good progress at it.” Mustafa also notes that several other so-called “big” changes — Wi-Fi Direct and NFC Beam — haven’t been as widely adopted among users as Google had hoped.
Android developer Elliot Chenger agrees, noting that “the problem continually with Android development is we spend time trying to understand and learn how to use new tech rather than polishing the stuff we currently have.” The focus, Chenger says, “[should be to stop giving developers] too many bells and whistles to work with,” a strategy that falls right in line with the apparent focus on fragmentation.
If the late October unveiling becomes true, we’ll soon know exactly what KitKat is all about. From addressing fragmentation to the introduction of new hardware — LG’s Nexus 5 is rumored to run the OS — anything Google does over the next couple of weeks is bound to be analyzed. But until they make it official, everything is just speculation.