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Leaked Google memo stipulates that Android 4.4 KitKat must be on board all new smartphones

Google is cracking the whip when it comes to device manufacturers, and according to a leaked document, Mountain View will insist that vendors arm their handsets with the very latest version of Android going forward.

Mobile Bloom (via Know Your Mobile) has an online source which passed on the info, specifically that Google wants all Android vendors to “abide by a simple rule,” namely that if they want access to the Google Services Framework and the Play Store for their device, it must be loaded with the most recent version of Google’s OS.

In other words, if a manufacturer were to push out a phone running an older version of Android, they wouldn’t be given permission to load all the familiar Google apps (Maps, Google Now, and so forth) which make up a big part of the core Android experience. Neither would the handset be able to access the massive library of Google Play apps – leaving any such device out in the cold.

We’ve discussed how Google might achieve this in the past, but if this leak is true, a direct laying down of the law to Android manufacturers is something of a surprising move. It definitely shows how serious Google is about tackling the problem of Android fragmentation – the user base being split across many different versions of the OS – but then, it is a very serious problem.

If you look at the latest figures for Android version usage, KitKat is only on 1.4 per cent of handsets – about the same as the ancient Froyo, which is on 1.3 per cent. Most – 59 per cent of devices – are now on Jelly Bean, but only because it’s sufficiently mature.

When it initially came out, Jelly Bean adoption was pretty slow too – although not nearly as lacklustre as the pace KitKat has shown out of the gate.

Previously, forcing adoption of the latest Android version wasn’t an option, because lower-end handsets didn’t have the power to run it smoothly enough to provide a decent end user experience.

With KitKat, though, Google has been focusing on ensuring the OS is more streamlined and can run on lesser hardware – and, of course, the power of smartphones today is ever-increasing. Even cheaper models can boast some impressive specs now – just look at the much acclaimed Moto G.

This may turn out to be an empty rumour yet, but the time is ripe for such a move.