Android 4.4 KitKat to reportedly focus on improving performance for low-memory hardware, better wearable support

Daniel Bader

October 31, 2013 12:07 am

We’re about to dive into a box of KitKats, as Google is likely planning to detail the new version of Android as early as Halloween.

And though we’ve seen plenty leaks of the Nexus 5, little is known about the next version of Android itself — other than its chocolate bar-related name, of course. Now, Amir Efrati of JessicaLessin.com has detailed a number of key upgrades to KitKat, based on a confidential document Google sent to its OEM partners.

In it, Google outlines key enhancements to low-memory devices such as entry-level handsets from Huawei, Samsung, ZTE and others. OEMs have traditionally been reticent to update older devices because there are performance considerations with newer versions of Android, especially as graphics acceleration becomes more ubiquitous throughout the OS. The other side of the coin is that, however easy Google makes it for OEMs to update, they’re still unlikely to spend the time, money and effort to do so, especially in the cheaper market.

KitKat is also purportedly optimized for wearables, which coincides nicely with the rumour that Google is readying a smartwatch for later this year or early 2014. KitKat is expected to support three new hardware sensors, according to Efrati: geomagnetic rotation vector, step detector and step counter. The latter two are important if you consider that many new devices are likely going to emulate the iPhone 5s in keeping track of users’ steps and elevation throughout the day.

Android 4.4 is also expected to improve NFC connectivity with certain types of hardware. That, and Bluetooth, are usually serviced by the OEMs themselves, leading to disparate and often incompatible executions of the same idea. This has lead to some wearable technology, like Fitbit’s line of health monitors, to have limited compatibility with Android hardware.

KitKat may also unify the IR stack for hardware manufacturers, bringing a uniform experience for virtual remote controls and other uses of infrared blasters.

We will likely know more in the coming days (or hours) so stay tuned!

  • Anupam Nath

    That only means one thing. A Google watch is on the horizon

  • Walkop

    This is awesome. Google finally understands how to improve their products in the best ways.

    1. Constantly improve design
    2. Constantly improve performance
    3. Low prices

    This is evident in both hardware and software. Ceramic buttons on the Nexus 5? Low-level hardware software optimizations? New Bluetooth, NFC, and IR optimizations? New sensor support? Transparent soft-keys and notification bar?

    All background, relatively minor things to some people, but overall they are MASSIVE changes.

    • TheFloppyBeaver

      I’m certainly not saying you’re wrong, because I agree with you 100%.

      But these are the things Apple does in the last few iterations and was ridiculed for not being innovative. Now people raves about it when Google does the same with Android?

      I don’t care for Apple and isn’t an Apple user btw, just an observation.

    • Yulet

      You must be dreaming. Apple’s phones are overpriced and they don’t improve the hardware nor the software like Google, they’re moving like a snail.

    • WalkinOnBottles

      With the exception of price, you can’t disagree with what FloppyBeaver is pointing out. Sure the iPhones are more expensive, but they keep improving, which was the main point. Even if you despise the company, you have to acknowledge that each phone was an improvement over the previous, which is what Google and Apple share in common with their smartphones.

      Hopefully the two companies keep improving their products so consumers can reap the benefits.

  • James

    hopefully google unveils kit kat tommowrow

  • K_p0w3r

    so Does my Gnex get kit kat or not? i was kind of expecting 4.3 to be the last update for my galaxy nexus since its now around the same age as the nexus s was when it stopped getting updates. but if they can keep supporting it that would be great

    • Marcus

      It doesn’t seem impossible the Gnex would get it. The low RAM in the Galaxy S is what hurt it. And if Kit Kat is supposed to have better low memory support the Gnex should work fine. Hopefully Google still supports it.

    • Mark

      The chances of the Gnex getting kitkat are slim to none, unless you want a custom rom. It is two years old and that is when Google ceases support.

    • K_p0w3r

      Like i said i kind of assumed that but with this rumour of kit kat having increased performance for low memory hardware and assuming that low memory hardware means 1 gb at the lowest and the fact that the galaxy nexus was the first nexus device to have unified storage should it not still be able to run kit kat, at least for this version. i kind of guess the whole unified memory thing was the only thing keeping the nexus s from getting updated to newer versions(at this point google apps take up most if not all of the nexus s’s system storage and cant be transferred over )

    • BMSMA

      Nexus 4 SHOULD get Kit Kat, Galaxy Nexus and Nexus S got ICS and JB.

  • Daniel

    You know, I like Google as much as the next guy, but it amazes me that the OS lacks simple features that force users to install customer launchers.. for example (pure stock) in the app drawer, you still can’t make folders or hide apps.. baffles me that Google doesn’t seem to include this type of control/customization with Android being positioned as open source and highly customizable

    • dr evil

      That’s why it IS so highly customizable. So you CAN install and configure it however YOU want. Why should they worry about something so petty when you have 10000 ways to change it yourself? Do you want them to be apple?

    • Daniel

      Refer to my reply down below to Mark.

      I’m not saying they have to be Apple, but not all users want a custom launcher over stock launcher, and not all users know how to install one. Additionally, some launchers require you to upgrade to the pro version.

      Take a look at Windows Phone – one of the most requested features is the ability to sort apps into folders. Not having this options makes your application drawer messy, and right out of the box, is something a lot of people want to stay organized. It shouldn’t require extra work to sort apps, even BlackBerry has figured this out.

    • Jeeho Lim

      In my opinion, the more implemented, the more confused a mainstream consumer gets. My friends didn’t even know that they could delete things off of the homescreen when they first got an Android phone.

      People who want the extra customization will take the extra step to find an alternative custom launcher, but people who just want to have simple, consistent performance will use the stock launcher. It’s not like there’s anything wrong with the stock launcher, it just lacks some extra customization features.

    • Mark

      So basically you’re annoyed that you have to customize something that is customizable? You make no sense. Vanilla Android isn’t about bloating up the UI with every bell and whistle. It is there to allow the OEM and the user to do what they want. Don’t be lazy!

    • Daniel

      I make no sense? Think logically here. For me it’s easy to install a launcher, but to other users they might not be familiar with the concept. With KitKat I actually want to use the stock Google launcher, and find other launchers slow down over time. So, if I buy a Nexus, I need to install a different launcher/interface just to sort apps and make folders? Give me a break. This is a no-brainer feature, and shouldn’t require the end user to do so much work just to get it. Not to mention some launchers limit what you can do unless you go pro/paid, such as Nova. How you can even argue against this makes no sense to me.

    • James

      I definitely agree with this. I love the default launcher, but my app drawer is so messy. I have over 10 pages of app and it take forever to find one if that app is not on my home-screen already

  • nub

    “many new devices are likely going to emulate the iPhone 5s in keeping track of users’ steps and elevation” … why would you say iPhone 5s when the 5s is emulating the S4? Apple isn’t the center of the universe you know.

    • Nadefrenzy

      Because the S4 doesn’t have a dedicated motion co-processor that the iPhone 5S has. Support for such features might be needed in the future.

  • Unwound

    At this rate, im betting we dont see the Nexus 5 or Kitkat until December.

    • Yulet

      What rate are you talking about? They should have released half of the phone by now?

    • Unwound

      Considering the number of predictions we keep hearing for release dates, and not a peep from Google on any of it.

    • Mark

      Not predictions; unfounded rumours. Nexus rumours are just wacky. But they generate lots of article clicks. Just don’t believe every rumour you read.

  • KID ANDROID

    This hopefully means the Nexus 5 will have an IR Blaster as its the best feature EVER put into a cellphone. My vision isn’t what it use to be & it’s awesome having an IR blaster and Peel Software on many of the phones I have and review. It shows nice large pics of the shows on & hell I’ve found shows that I didn’t even know I could get lol. It’s the best damn smartphone feature by far that has come to smartphones in the past few years.
    Please let the N5 have one

  • jones19876

    Sounds like it would be a good upgrade for my old Nexus S, but updates stopped at 4.1.2 and 4.4 will likely never make it on this 2010 device.

  • Shaggyskunk

    Who else doesn’t want to hear about another single “leak”???

  • Anonymous501

    It’s too bad that Android isn’t more like Windows in terms of how it works on all sorts of different hardware configurations. I think the weakest part of Android is that it requires (or lets) the manufacturer make their own customized version of Android. It would be so much easier if Google kept releasing the Android updates and it was up to the manufacturers to release drivers for the different hardware components.

    I’m a big fan of Android phones, but the update process is of the weakest points.

  • rgl168

    unfortunately, Galaxy Nexus will not get Kitkat :-(

    Galaxy Nexus & Android 4.4 (KitKat) FAQs

    Is Google releasing Android 4.4 as a system update for Galaxy Nexus?

    No, Galaxy Nexus phones won’t be receiving the update for Android 4.4 (KitKat).

    Why isn’t Galaxy Nexus receiving the update to Android 4.4?

    Galaxy Nexus, which first launched two years ago, falls outside of the 18-month update window when Google and others traditionally update devices.