It seems that Google has finally had enough of feeding us Jellybeans and after three updates in a row, they have moved onto something a little bit tastier. With a very impressive list of enhancements and improvements, the release of KitKat 4.4 is being widely anticipated by Android users across the Globe. Lucky Nexus 5 and now Nexus 4 users are already able to make use of the new features, however most other models are still pending an update release date.
Ice Cream Sandwich was the last major update that Google released back in 2011, touching on everything from button repositioning to multitasking ability and even Face Unlock however all these gimmicks came at a cost and that cost was higher memory requirements, something that a lot of older models just didn’t have, blocking out a huge section of the Android user market.
With some users still running Gingerbread due to its low memory demand, if Google had any hopes of making this older update obsolete once and for all, then they had to make sure that their newest software also ran with lower system requirements, which they have done as far as we can tell. Until lower RAM phones (the Nexus 5 runs a massive 2GB) start running this update, it is hard to tell how good a job they have done, but with half our office currently using Android, watch this space over the next few months and we will let you know.
So, what’s so great about KitKat I hear you ask? Well, this one is a big one, so may we suggest you have a break and have a look at KitKat 4.4….
Seeing Through the New Launcher:
Let’s start at the beginning, the first thing that you will notice with any update are changes to the home screen. KitKat’s homepage runs straight from the Google Search app and completely drops the standalone launcher. Visually, you will notice that KitKat is a lot more transparent, with the status and system bars now see through, which I think makes the screen look cleaner, less blocky and solid than the previous black. The icons are still white, but don’t worry, they are visible on a light background due to a gradient effect. There is no limit to the amount of screens that you can add with this new launcher, well, no hard rule anyway. Dragging a new icon to the right of the screen creates the new page, however as I mention below, there is no quick scroll so you may want to buff up those thumbs if you are going to try and test this rule.
Smart Caller ID:
No longer will you have a call from a number you don’t know, and end up locked in a three hour sales pitch that you didn’t want. The new smart caller ID recognises when a number is not stored in your contacts and uses Google to match the number to a business. It uses local listings on Google, so if the business is not registered, you may still get a few sneak through, but you will be much more informed about who and why you are being called before you answer. It does heavily rely on the information registered on the Google Business page being accurate and sometimes if you are being called from an office with multiple numbers, it will not be able to match them up. The plus side to this is there is now a new challenge for digital analysts and call technology developers alike to come up with a solution to this.
Widgets, Widgets Everywhere!:
By holding down anywhere on your home screen, you activate the new widget feature of KitKat. They pop up and the zoomed out screen gives you full access to wallpapers, widgets and settings.
Again, this screen is now transparent rather than black; however the listing format is still a bit clunky and messy for my liking and with no quick scroll option again with this update, it can be tedious to make it to the end of the list. With the addition of dots to indicate which screen you are on separating the dock from the home screen, I was hopeful that they had incorporated this into such a big update, but it appears we will have to wait for the next update to see if quick scrolling is now an option.
Anyone that is using Jelly Bean will probably tell you that trying to crop a picture to use as a wallpaper is a fruitless exercise and is more hassle than it is worth. They have listened to this and if personalising your technology is important to you, then you will be very happy with the new cropping feature. Drag, pinch zoom and ‘set wallpaper’ is all it takes now and you get a preview of your image before you save it. KitKat is quite clever in the fact that it will allow you to set a perfect 1080 x 1920 image as a full background, and will disable the parallax scrolling effect, unlike pedantic Jelly Bean that would make you crop the background until scrolling would work.
The left home screen is not a home screen at all, but is in fact the new home of Google Now, the personalised search cards that give you information local to where you are and can be personalised depending on your tastes and the places you have been previously. The way Google Now itself works is no different from previous updates, and even though you can still use the swipe up method to access it, the thought is that the left hand screen will be the primary method from now on and may even be the first step towards phasing out the swipe up all together.
You will be used to this mode already when using Youtube and watching video on your phone, with auto hiding systems and status bars however, they would reappear when you interacted with the screen. KitKat has changed this and apps can now hide the status bar, even if you touch the screen. A new gesture has been introduced, so now to get the status bar to reappear, you swipe from the top or the bottom of the screen. The system and status bars are now translucent, rather than block black, which is more aesthetically pleasing and also saves on system bar pixel use. This is an advantage on tablets, which are well known for being frivolous with pixel use.
Down with the Dialler!!
This one may take a bit of getting used to, especially as fundamentally, your handset is still supposed to be a phone. KitKat’s main dialler screen is no longer a number keypad. Instead, Google wants you to make your phone calls by doing a business search through Google Maps. You will be searching by names of companies and people rather than typing in their number. This may sound a bit strange, but how many times do you search on google for a Chinese restaurant or a car garage and then type the number off the website into your phone? All this is doing is cutting out a step of the process and making it more streamline. Names are easier to remember than numbers as well so when you look it at, it actually makes sense to do this. But don’t fear, if this isn’t for you, you can still access a dialler pad (you will need it to enter new numbers into your contacts after all) but it is hidden now. Tap a button and it will appear over the screen you are using rather than the old full screen mode of Jellybean.