Well ladies and gents, the day is finally here. It's been a long road full of leaks and teasers, but the Nexus 5 is now available for sale and Google has released full details about KitKat. It looks like this is going to be the best version of Android to date (as if you expected anything less), and there's a lot to talk about. Let's dig in.
Interface and Google Now
We've seen dozens of leaked screenshots and images that show off KitKat's new transparent navigation and status bars and white icons, so it shouldn't come as a shocker to see them as part of the finalized version of the OS. It turns out that there's also a new API that allows apps to request this transparent look, so as more apps start to adopt the feature, KitKat will start to have a more unified look throughout the entire user experience. Pretty.
Certain apps will also be able to take full control of the screen – no more status bar, no more navigation bar. Just a full screen experience with your favorite book, game, or movie. A quick swipe from the edge of the screen will bring all the controls back into sight.
Speaking of movies (and other forms of entertainment), the screen will now be taken over by movie or album art when streaming to Chromecast and the device is locked. Naturally, all controls will still be accessible from within that screen.
Google Now is also going on the receiving end of some changes, mostly in accessibility. On the Nexus 5, Google Now will be in sort of a passive listening mode – you need only speak "OK Google" to get started with a search or other command, as long as you're on the homescreen.
Performance, Printing, and the Cloud
One of the big things that Google clearly focused on with KitKat was performance, especially in low-end devices. According to the Android Developers site, "Android 4.4 is designed to run fast, smooth, and responsively on a much broader range of devices than ever before — including on millions of entry-level devices around the world that have as little as 512MB RAM" – that's massive. The core system processes are now much more aggressive in memory management, which should prevent apps from using large amounts of RAM. The end result? A much smoother experience for lower-end devices.
Of course, improved performance isn't just for low-end devices – Google is touting "faster multitasking" for all devices. Not only is memory optimized in 4.4, but the touchscreen supposedly responds "faster and more accurately than ever before." So basically, you'll be able to do more things at once and switch between applications almost instantly.
Just as ICS brought forth native screenshots, KitKat will bring native screen recording (!!). Finally, the need for root and [sometimes janky] third-party applications will be no more – recording what's happening on the screen will just be part of the system. That's going to make my job a lot easier. Thanks, Google!
As previously rumored, cloud printing will now be an official part of Android with 4.4. If you have a printer connected to Google Cloud Print, then you're basically ready to go. You'll be able to push any document, picture, or web page to the printer directly from a phone or tablet.
That's not the only cloud service that's get enhanced in KitKat – apps like Quickoffice will be able to open and save files not only in Google Drive, but also other cloud services, like Box or Dropbox. That's convenient.
Phone and Messaging
Since smartphones are still actual phones, the dialer is getting smarter. With KitKat, when a number not in your contacts calls you, the phone will automatically check the number against local listings using Google Maps. If it's a local business, then you'll know it. The dialer will also prioritize contacts that you talk to the most, so getting in touch with those closest to you is quick and easy. That's really sweet, Google. <3
As we've already seen, Hangouts now takes the place of the default messaging app, so "all your messages [are] in the same place." It appears that SMS and Hangout messages will both appear in-line with each other, so conversations will always flow as they are supposed to, regardless of the medium in which you're talking to the other person on. And of course, you'll also be able to share your location and animated GIFs through Hangouts, too. Because staying away from GIFs isn't something our internet overlords will allow. Ever.
Oh, and get ready for Emoji. So much Emoji. You've been warned.
NFC, Bluetooth, and IR Blasters
So tap-to-pay in Google Wallet never really took off, mostly because carriers were about as helpful as herpes when it came to allowing its use on their networks. Basically, everyone aside from Sprint (in the US, that is), wouldn't let Google control the secure element, which is required to make NFC payments. With KitKat, however, Google bypasses the need to control the secure element and handles everything virtually. What does that mean? It's means you'll be able to use Wallet (and NFC in general) in more places, carriers be damned.
Bluetooth will also see lots of new features in KitKat, including two new profiles: HID over GATT, which provides a "low-latency link with low-power devices such as mice, joysticks, and keyboards;" and Bluetooth MAP, which "apps exchange messages with a nearby device." In addition to that, users will also be able to "set absolute volume on the system from their Bluetooth devices" thanks to an extension to Bluetooth AVRCP 1.3. So really, all that just means Bluetooth is getting better and more useful. Those are both things I like.
While we're talking about wireless radios and such, let's talk about IR Blasters. As most of you know, both the GS4 and HTC One have IR Blasters, but both were basically useless in the Google Play edition device because stock Android didn't have support for the hardware. Well, now it does. Time to start channel surfing while you're web surface. All from your phone.
Of course, there's so much more
This is really just some of the key things to expect in KitKat – there are a lot more low-level developer things going on behind the scenes that we haven't even touched on yet (if you're interested in those, you can find full details here). So far, this seems like the biggest Android release since Ice Cream Sandwich, and easily surpasses all three versions of Jelly Bean combined in the features department. Google has clearly been hard at work on this one... now we just have to play the waiting game a bit longer to get it in our hands.