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Updated: December 3, 2013 15:47 IST

Now, Android takes a ‘KitKat break’

Raghavendra S.
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With Google’s promise of Over The Air (OTA) platform updates to its Nexus family of devices, Android 4.4 is now available for all devices in the Nexus family.

With the launch of ‘KitKat’, Android has appropriated yet another confectionary. Launched for its flagship Nexus series, Google’s latest version of its mobile operating system, Android 4.4 aka KitKat, had the tech world buzzing last month.

Going by the tagline of KitKat (Have a break, have a KitKat), in this release, Google seems to have taken a break from revamping the user interface (UI) except for some fine tuning. The most noticeable change in UI is that the colour of status bar icons, which was blue in Jelly Bean, is white in KitKat.

With Google’s promise of Over The Air (OTA) platform updates to its Nexus family of devices, Android 4.4 is now available for all devices in the Nexus family.

Bringing devices inline

One of the biggest hurdles the Android platform is faced with is the spectrum of versions its more than one billion phones are running. The two-year-old Gingerbread still powers a major portion of these devices. With KitKat, for the first time Google is attempting to accommodate older devices to its latest platform, something Apple has already tried with its tablet and laptop platform by providing free upgrade to its latest Mavericks operating system. Google’s efforts of porting KitKat to older devices will be exciting for all Android phone owners, with at least 512 MB of RAM.

Efforts to optimise performance are the major changes in this release of Android. Apart from the display and the antennas in smartphones, sensors are in plenty and are power hungry. When the phone CPU has to service sensors, it consumes a major chunk of the daily power utilisation by the phone. For instance, every time the GPS adjusts location, or the accelerometer performs autorotation of the screen, these responses come at the expense of additional power consumption. In KitKat, Google has introduced batch processing of sensor requests instead of individual servicing, which would considerably reduce the overall battery draining.

The digital signal processor (DSP) processes speech and audio for the music player on all smartphones. It is a specialised processor by itself and if it is handled efficiently, it can reduce power consumption. KitKat promises a reduction of power consumption by DSP, leading to the promise of 60 hours music playback on the Nexus 5.

Simpler User Interface with less intrusive colour scheme and animations further add to the elegant appeal, further lowering the resource demand with this update. These features will help Android 4.4 get lighter, resulting in smoother performance on relatively less powerful phones.

Stamping its authority

Google, still the search giant, makes its appearance back in its true form by integrating search at every step in its mobile platform. Even in the dialler. By default, the dialler does not land on the number pad, but opens a search bar. The search bar can be used to browse through contacts, or a user could make use of the assorted frequent caller list.

Noticeable changes might not be too many in KitKat. But an undercurrent trend of tightening the fist is evident. It begins with the non-removable Google search bar on all the seven slices of home screen.

Google Now

Google Now, the web-powered personal assistant has gotten smarter and proactive. The much-touted ‘OK Google’ voice command activation for search is now available on the Nexus family of devices.

For instance, when you are on the Google search bar and say “OK, Google. Call Mom”, it asks “Home or Mobile”, if there are two numbers saved under the contact. An entire text message can be sent from the Google Now dash, including choosing the contact and reciting the content, without touching the screen once. Speech to text feature work well even with non-American accents in English.

There is a slight difference in availability of this feature within the Nexus family, so as to make the newly released Nexus 5 exclusive. In Nexus 5, whenever the screen is unlocked, you can call out “OK Google” and it is ready to answer your queries or perform tasks. Whereas, in other Nexus devices, this feature works only when on the Google Now dash.

Talking about voice command activation, a related troubling development is that Google is not metaphorically, but in reality listening to its users. When the key words “OK Google” are spoken it responds, implying it is listening to its ambiance, and is hunting for keywords. Soon there could be a platform update that might already suggest theatres playing a particular movie, after it has overheard your decision of wanting to watch one with your friend!

Apps that got better

With minor UI changes and substantial performance changes, the more visible portion of some important apps has been overhauled. The email application for adding third-party mail accounts now has the same interface as the native Gmail application.

The ‘immersive UI’ for applications requiring entire screen space, including the status bar and tool bar, is now more easily rationed to many applications. Google Play Books for instance, makes better utilisation rendering better reading experience.

Minor updates to the camera and settings icons are impressive. Changing wallpaper has become more intuitive than the cumbersome and unreasonable ‘crop to match screen width’ demand.

On the disappointing side of having no updates, the camera application is still one of the worst performing applications. Although the image editor has filter updates, the camera app leaves one complaining.

With Google’s Android KitKat and Apple’s iOS7, 2014 will be a year to look forward to in the smartphone world.

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