On Thursday, 31st October 2013, Google took the covers off both the Nexus 5 and the updated Android 4.4 OS, KitKat. The Nexus 5 officially went on sale via the Google Play Store on the 1st November, signalling the first of the smartphones running KitKat. Google also went onto commit to a major rollout to some of its previous Nexus devices within the next few weeks, with a few other OEMs also receiving the update within the next few months. There new OS has been marketed as “Beautiful & Immersive” by the Google team. There’s no doubting that users would always want the latest firmware running on their devices, but what’s new once you’ve made the jump? We take a look at a few of the major talking points:
Google has introduced a transparent drop-down menu and skin for KitKat, something we’ve seen previously with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI. While this isn’t a unique or significant change, it does place more emphasis on user screens and wallpapers, for example.
Always-listening “Ok Google”
The always-listening input for Google Now means that you simply use the words “OK Google” to commence voice searches, send messages, find directions on Maps, or simply play a song in your playlist.
While NFC payments existed previously, a new feature called HCE (Host Card Emulation) optimises the process and allows any device with NFC capabilities to pair with NFC-supported apps for payments. The feature emulates an NFC smart card, as well as includes a Reader Mode, which allows users to use apps as readers for HCE cards and other NFC smart cards. So you’ll be able to make and receive NFC payments from here on in.
New emoticons have been introduced, which can now be included in your Gmail messages, even within the subject line. Users will be able to access the emoticons directly from the native Google keyboard.
Support for Lower-end devices
This is of particular importance in providing support for older, and entry-level devices running Android. Google has also been pushing more convergence amongst the Android community, with many of users still running Gingerbread.
Low Power Sensor Batching
One of the major aspects of a smartphone is battery life, and power consumption of its hardware. Google has now introduced “hardware sensor batching,” which effectively optimises hardware tasks that would usually consume a large portion of battery life, by not running said hardware all the time. This, in turn, frees up the processor, and allows it to remain in a low-power, idle state until required. Such optimisation is important for background processes and apps such as monitoring tools, tracking, fitness statistics apps, etc. The feature, however, requires support from chipset partners, and, thus, will only be available on the Nexus 5 from the start.
Full-screen Immersive Mode
The new immersive mode allows what you’re viewing to take centre stage, such as reading books or playing games. All menus and notifications will automatically hide, except what you’re currently viewing. Simply swipe the edges to bring back the status bar or navigation buttons.
The new phone app prioritises your contacts based on whom you talk to the most. This is all done automatically, while you’re also able to search nearby places and business using the app. When making and receiving calls from numbers not in your contacts, your phone will search for matches in the Google listings and display business details, etc. if found.
Of particular interest to those who create and manage self-help tutorials, the new screen recording feature allows the user to record screens at a system level, without needing a secondary camera.
Google has previously released updates to Hangouts, which replaced the Talk app a few months back. Further updates have now been added, which integrates the Hangouts and Messaging apps into one, where users can view their IMs, SMSes, and MMSes in a single location.
Native IR support
Having already been touted for some time, and available for some devices via their custom UIs, the feature is now native to KitKat. For those devices with IR support, users can now control their TVs from their handsets. We can only assume this feature was introduced because of the Google Play Editions of the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4, whom lost the capabilities with the vanilla build of Android.
The new captions features allows users to read text rather than listen to sound within apps. The feature, however, won’t be available to all 3rd party apps from the start. Users will be able to activate the feature via the Accessibility menu with the OS Settings. Developers will, thus, be able to add the captions within apps that will appear as white text on a black background (or vice versa), and allow different language and text size options. There is also a possibility that Google Translate will work alongside captions for apps released in a different language.
Although this feature has already been available on certain smartphones, such as those from Samsung that support wireless printing, Android will now be offering the feature as a native solution. This means users are now able to print photos, documents, web pages from their devices by connecting to any printer with Google Cloud Print support, as well as HP’s ePrint printers, and other apps available in the Play Store. The feature brings us closer what I deem to be an easier option in NFC printing…’bump and print.’
Cloud saving has been on the up for many years now, and while users are able to save their documents in Google Drive via an app, the update now allows users to save their documents to the Google Cloud directly from the apps themselves. For instance, if you’re creating a document in QuickOffice, you can save to Google Drive directly, without having to save to your device storage first.
There are a quite a number of other improvements added to the KitKat OS. Here’s a brief list of a few of those:
Bluetooth MAP support, Chromecast support, Chrome web view, device management built-in, downloads app redesign, easy home screen switching, Email app refresh, full-screen wallpapers with preview, HDR+ photography, location in Quick Settings, location modes and monitoring, low-power audio playback, music and movie-seeking from lock screen, secure app sandboxes, step counting built-in, and a few touchscreen improvements; some of which are only native to the Nexus 5 upon release.