Nov. 05--We may all be a little sick of candy post-Halloween, but Google picked this time to dole out a KitKat.
That's the latest confection-themed moniker for the Android update, which will first be available on the new Nexus 5. At first glance it may seem to be a relatively minor upgrade, but there are some intriguing things happening under the hood that may help those who want a budget smartphone.
In addition to streamlining the interface even further, many of KitKat's improvements are designed to help it play nice with other devices. For example, it has a unified storage access framework designed to let you keep track of documents, media and other files across all Android apps to make it easier to look for your stuff. Printing has also become standardized via Google Cloud Print.
Navigation interfaces can now disappear within apps, allowing them to expand to true full-screen views. Google Now's voice search can be activated at any time without any button presses and can now ask questions to clarify your requests. And those Emoji things are now supported in the stock keyboard.
What's truly intriguing is the way KitKat has been redesigned to be less resource-intensive -- it needs just 512KB of RAM. That means very low-powered devices can run the latest version of Android.
Google has said the resource shrink is designed to combat fragmentation. The last version of Android has been out for more than a year, yet about half of all Android devices use it. That's despite huge sales of devices like the Samsung Galaxy S4. Fragmentation makes it a pain for app developers and device owners alike, as apps can run on some brand-new phones but not others.
Google's goal is to get more devices on the same platform, and I applaud the move. Reducing the barriers to entry is always a good strategy, and this should help good smartphones become less expensive.
I'm less optimistic the various device makers will live up to their side of the bargain. Fragmentation mostly happens when phonemakers lard up their version of Android with different visuals and crapware most people will never use or appreciate, or when they want to just push something out without mastering something new.
I'm not sure KitKat will do much to alleviate vanity and laziness. But that's not Google's fault. In the meantime, Android users will soon have a new experience to play with.