Google quietly revealed the latest version of Android (4.4) today almost two months after announcing that this version would be nicknamed KitKat. Unlike the latest version of Jelly Bean (4.3), which didn’t introduce many new features features for consumers and developers, KitKat brings along a huge variety of improvements to the operating system.
The good news for developers and businesses with Android apps is that the vast majority of apps on the Play Store will not break in 4.4, and there are no major design changes that will make your current applications look out of place on a device running KitKat.
Let’s dive in and examine some of the new features!
For Android Users:
The biggest change that Google is touting for KitKat is its ability to run on a wide array of devices. Thanks to a focus on slimming down the operating system and introducing new memory management techniques, Android can run on devices with as little as 512MB of RAM. This means that you will start seeing Android on more devices. Manufacturers have been making a big push with smart watches lately, and Google has been working on Google Glass for a while now, so we already have an idea of what low-memory devices running Android might look like.
Updated System UI
A more obvious change that users will start seeing as KitKat begins to roll out is that the system UI is getting out of the way. The status bar at the top of every Android device is now translucent, putting a bigger focus on your content and applications. KitKat also introduces a new “Immersive mode” for application that allow application to hide both the status bar and the navigation buttons. Videos, photos, games, and books can all take up 100% of your device’s screen.
Though consumers are using their smartphones as actual phones less and less these days, Google has given the boring dialer a push into the future with some Google search magic. Contacts are now sorted in the dialer by who you talk to the most and who is nearby, and local businesses will also be included in your search. When you receive a call from an unknown number, Google will use Google Maps listings to try to pair the caller with a name.
Finally, Google has taken a page from Apple’s popular iMessage service by integrating SMS and MMS in the hangouts application. All your chats, SMS, MMS, and hangouts will be in one place on your phone.
For businesses and developers:
The first new feature that businesses can leverage is the new printing framework. The printing framework allows applications to send content to printers that users have connected to their devices via WiFi or cloud printing services. If you are taking your application to a trade show, maybe you want to set up your application to print customized brochures, name tags, or other such items. Apps that allow users to create their own content (such as painting applications or photo-editing applications) can leverage these APIs to allow their users to print their content at home.
One area that Android has been consistently lagging behind iOS is in supporting animations. Though the animation APIs improved a lot in Android 3.0, Android has taken another huge step forward in 4.4. Developers can now define animation “scenes” that will make grouping animations for UI changes simple. Android 4.4 also provides default animations for scene changes, so developers may not even need to worry about creating their own animations.
Debugging all applications for businesses has become easier thanks to screen recording. You can now take a video of your screen and send it to the developer to help demonstrate how to reproduce bugs. Businesses can also leverage this tool to help create promotional videos for the Play Store, giving users valuable insight into how the app looks while running.
As a part of KitKat’s focus on support for low-memory devices, developers also now have access to powerful memory diagnostic tools to see how much memory their app is consuming over time. This should lead to better app performance and fewer crashes.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for new developer features in 4.4. You can find the complete list of new features for developers here.
Potentially breaking changes:
There are a few changes that could cause some applications to behave unexpectedly in Android 4.4.
- If your application reads from the public external storage directories, your application will need to request a new permission from 4.4 devices.
- Applications that use WebViews will want to ensure that everything looks and behaves as expected with the new Chromium-based WebViews.
- AlarmManager alarms may not fire quite when you expect them to, as alarms are now batched together with all apps that have alarms set to fire within a reasonably similar time frame.
- Similarly, ContentResolvers that sync periodically will sync within 4% of the period you specify, so you shouldn’t rely on the sync occurring at a specific time.