At the end of last week, Google finally unveiled its Nexus 5 smartphone in a low-key blog post that also heralded the arrival of Android 4.4 KitKat.
Google first revealed the KitKat moniker at the start of September, which was quite a shock as we were led to believe that the OS would be named Key Lime Pie. But with KitKat, Google gets a familiar candy tie-in, and a mascot that was probably easier to make into a statue for the Google lawn than a piece of pie.
As usual, the updated mobile OS introduces a host of new features, and this article is all about highlighting some of the smart new touches coming to KitKat. Google is, of course, bringing a lot more than this to the table with Android 4.4 – we can also expect the likes of touchscreen improvements, updated NFC architecture, secure app sandboxes, low-power audio playback, HDR+ photography, and full-screen wallpapers with preview. But read on for some of the highlights, starting with…
Having a mobile gadget is all about having fast access to the things you need. To that end, KitKat optimises memory and improves the touchscreen, Google said, "so that it responds faster and more accurately than ever before." That means you can simultaneously listen to music while browsing the web or playing a mobile game with ease (hopefully).
"Android 4.4 now supports a better accessibility experience across apps by adding system-wide preferences for Closed Captioning," Google said. Navigate to Settings > Accessibility > Captions to set global captioning preferences.
Easier file access
"A new storage access framework makes it simple for users to browse and open documents, images, and other files across all of their preferred document storage providers," Google said. That includes Quickoffice and Box, the latter of which said in a blog post: "Whenever you open a file in an app, you will have the option to choose files from all the places you might have files stored – including local storage (like your SD card) and the cloud (like Box)!"
Printing from a mobile device might seem odd, but sometimes you need a hard copy of your documents. Now, Google noted that you can “print to any printer connected to Google Cloud Print, to HP ePrint printers, and to other printers that have apps in the Google Play Store.”
Google promised a cleaner eBook experience on KitKat. Immersive mode "automatically hides everything except what you really want to see," Google said. "Just swipe the edge of the screen to bring back your status bar and navigation buttons."
Step detector and step counter
KitKat supports two new composite sensors, step detector and step counter, which let you turn your Android device into a fitness tracker. The feature is available on the Nexus 5 – and in use on apps like Runtastic – and Google said that “we're working with our chipset partners to bring them to new devices as soon as possible.”
Google has generally smoothed out the UI to better emphasise apps over interface elements, giving you more room to work and play. Google promised more visually pleasing album and movie art while your device is locked, or while you're projecting content via Chromecast. "You can play, pause, or seek to a specific moment," Google said.
Smart Caller ID
In KitKat, the phone dialler gets an upgrade, as do some calling features like Caller ID. To help ease the guessing game, KitKat will look for Caller ID matches on Google Maps for any incoming phone numbers that are not in your contacts list.
Is your contact list getting a little unwieldy? With KitKat, the phone app will prioritise contacts based on those who you talk to the most. "You can also search for nearby places and businesses, your contacts, or people in your Google Apps domain," Google said.
The "OK Google" voice command (as seen over in the US on the Moto X and some Droid handsets) is coming to KitKat. Once set up, you can talk to your device from across the room, waking it up with the "OK Google" voice command. You can ask it for the weather, directions, movie times, and sports scores, or ask it to play a certain song, text a friend, or make a phone call.
From texts to calls to video chats, there are a variety of ways in which you can keep in touch with friends. To help keep your conversations straight, though, the new Hangouts app in KitKat will centralise all SMS and MMS messages alongside your other conversations and video calls.
"And with the new Hangouts, you can even share your location and send animated GIFs," Google said, features the company rolled out through Google+ last week.
For more on Android 4.4, see our in-depth look at KitKat which explores the reasons why we believe this is the most important Android OS update in a long time.