Android 4.4 KitKat release date, rumours and everything you need to know
Google made the surprise move of announcing that the next version of Android would be known as KitKat, rather than the Key Lime Pie that was widely suspected.
As we look towards the launch of the next version of Google's mobile OS, which we expect to debut on the Nexus 5, rumours are starting to flow. What will Android KitKat update? When will Android 4.4 KitKat launch? Will it be compatible with my handset?
Here we're scouring all the news to bring you the facts, the rumours and everything you need to know about the next version of Android, all in one place.
Android 4.4 KitKat: What's with the name?
Google announced that Android 4.4 would be known as KitKat, unveilling a huge KitKat Android figure outside its headquarters in Mountain View, California. The news collided with the invitations to the Apple iPhone launch event, although the scale of the Android and Nestlé KitKat announcements suggests this might have been a coincidence.
Google reportedly said that Key Lime Pie - although the working title for Android 4.4 - wasn't widely recognised as a sweet treat outside the US. The story goes that the Android development team then thought about KitKat and pitched the idea to Nestlé who jumped straight on board.
It's a deal that works on both sides, with Nestlé running a promotional campaign on confectionery to win Android devices or Google Play credit, while Google gets to use the icon image of the KitKat bar, now in Android form.
Some may see it as a shrewd marketing move, others as Google trying to express its fun and playful side. Either way, Google's promise that Android 4.4 will be sweet is very much literal. Quickly following the reveal of the Android KitKat statue, Google updated it's Android page announcing that KitKat was coming.
Android KitKat release date
Android 4.4 KitKat will almost certainly debut on the Nexus 5, which is expected to launch on 31 October and be in shops on the 1 November in the UK and US. The date is yet to be confirmed by Google, but October fits the launch pattern for previous Nexus devices. Nestlé also posted on its Facebook KitKat page to expect a launch in October. Whether this is KitKat repeating the rumours, or stating fact, can't be determined.
The Nexus 4 is out of stock in some areas, as well as being heavily discounted in others, suggesting that Google is winding down stock to make way for the Nexus 5, so all things seem to be pointing in the direction of October. Oh that and we've already seen Nexus 5 devices appear in leaked photos in Carphone Warehouse ready to be sold.
We've also recently seen a listing for a refreshed Nexus 10, this time built by Asus. The current Nexus 10 from Samsung is getting old, so we wouldn't be surprised to see a parelled launch of the Nexus 10 and the Nexus 5, both with Android 4.4 KitKat in October, demonstating that there's consistency across all sizes of device. Hopefully Nexus 7 users will also be able to benefit.
Android KitKat features
So far there's been little technical detail of what Android 4.4 KitKat will actually contain. The nature of previous increments through Jelly Bean hasn't seen a huge debut of new features, so perhaps the move to a new name with KitKat highlights that there will be more to get our teeth into this time around.
The latest information suggests that KitKat will be the most widely used operating system Google launches and will focus on low-end devices as well as wearables; perfect timing for a Google smartwatch.
With KitKat, Google has been working even harder to address one of Android’s biggest disadvantages versus Apple: less than half of Android devices are running the latest version of the software, called “Jelly Bean,” which was released in summer 2012. Compare that to nearly two-thirds of Apple devices are already running the latest version of its iOS software, released last month and you can see the problem.
The best leak so far about Android 4.4 KitKat is from former Wall Street Journal journalist Jessica Lessin who claims to have a confidential document detailing new features of the OS like NFC support, better support for low-end devices, and being able to use your phone as a remote control for your TV.
"The document about KitKat that we reviewed, marked 'confidential,' makes clear that Google wants its new software to work well on low-end phones in addition to the more expensive Samsung Galaxy and HTC devices." says Lessin. "KitKat 'optimizes memory use in every major component' and provides 'tools to help developers create memory-efficient applications' for 'entry-level devices,' such as those that have 512 megabytes of memory, according to the document."
Google has been breaking a number core apps out of the base level OS - like the keyboard, Maps, Gmail, calendar, Google Play, Google+ - so new features roll into these areas more readily, without the need for a larger OS update as you might find on other platforms.
We're sure that Android KitKat will have some headline developments, perhaps around the integration of Drive, improving the camera app, but there's little indication of what the real headline focus will be.
We'd like to see improvements to Google Maps, the reintroduction of proper map caching and better searching: currently Google Maps will often search for the company name in an address, rather than the postal code, often returning bad results.
Android KitKat wearables
Lessin also states, quoting from the same document that "The KitKat release shows that Google is preparing for the rise of wearable-computing devices. According to the confidential document, KitKat is expected to support three new types of sensors: geomagnetic rotation vector, step detector and step counter." With smart watches heating up following the launches of devices from Samsung and Sony, getting unified framework will be important for Google if it wants to retain control over what is and what isn't supported.
Android KitKat NFC
KitKat will also supposedly allow developers to create services to allow phones to “emulate” physical cards that let people make payments, earn loyalty rewards, enter secure buildings and public-transit system, according to the confidential document given to Lessin. According to the KitKat marketing materials, developers will be able to emulate cards without keeping people’s information stored in the secure element.
Android KitKat as a remote control
Again, according to the same leaked document the next version of Android lets developers build apps that control TVs, tuners, switches and other devices by sending infrared signals.
Android KitKat design
So far there have only been a few KitKat screens leaked that claim to be Android 4.4. They show the dialler and the messages app and there isn't too much to conclude from them and they could easily be faked. Visually the use of green and blue looks much the same as before, the messages app showing the same smiley bell as Google+ messages to say there's nothing for you to see.
The app is simpler and flatter than the current Android 4.3 Jelly Bean dialler and from the image below, looks to ditch the darker shaded background, if true.
We wouldn't expect too much of a change from Android Jelly Bean, but increased consistency between different areas of the OS would be nice. If we have one criticism of Android, it's that in the past the design language has varied a fair bit between the different Google apps and services.
Android 4.4 KitKat: Will it work with my phone?
With any Android update there are always plenty of people wanting to get their hands on the latest release. For those who own the Nexus 4, Nexus 7 or Nexus 10, you're pretty certain to get the update soon after release - although there has often been some delay for some territories in rolling these OTA updates out.
Next in line will likely be the Google Edition handsets from Samsung and HTC, along with some older Nexus devices if you're lucky.
For those with devices from Samsung, HTC, Sony, LG, Asus, Acer, and other manufacturers, that remains to be seen. We'd expect flagship devices, like the HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4 or Sony Xperia Z1, to be updated, but we're sure that for many, it will be new devices launched in 2014 that land with Android 4.4 KitKat wrapped in a manufacturer's packaging, for example the Samsung Galaxy S5.
Android KitKat bars
So while the bars aren't part of the software, it's part of the interesting story of Android 4.4 KitKat. Nestlé set about creating the Android logo in KitKat form, using a four-finger bar and then casting the feet, arms and head out of solid chocolate.
The KitKat Androids have been made in limited numbers, with Nestlé initally saying that some would be for competition winners. Some from a limited run of 500 were sent out to media, with Pocket-lint receiving two. We've eaten one. That might be sacrilege, but it was too tempting, and mighty tasty.
Google and KitKat are really going at it with the marketing campaign too launching a couple of teaser videos ahead of the official launch. The first called Magic sees one Android robot convince another that he can make his bar of KitKat disappear.
The second titled “To give or not to give?” sees one Android robot teasing another with a bar of Kitkat only for a third Android robot to steal it when he is least expecting it. What these teasers have to do with the new mobile operating system from Google is anyone's business, however they are cute and fun.