Google Pressures Device Makers to Use KitKat Android 4.4: Reports

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2014-02-18
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Google Pressures Device Makers to Use KitKat Android 4.4: Reports

The Android rumor mill is alive with reports from anonymous sources that Google is pushing device makers to load the latest version of Android KitKat 4.4 on their new devices to boost the operating system and bring the latest new features to users.

The reports are based on what is being called a leaked memo that Google has allegedly sent to "at least one major Android OEM partner from the Android Team," according to a Feb. 16 story by MobileBloom.

"Starting February 2014, Google will no longer approve GMS [Google Mobile Services] distribution on new Android products that ship older platform releases," according to the claimed memo. "Each platform release will have a 'GMS approval window' that typically closes nine months after the next Android platform release is publicly available. (In other words, we all have nine months to get new products on the latest platform after its public release.) The policy could only mean good things, especially for the smartphone user."

Such a policy could certainly be aimed at helping push device makers to a quicker use of the newest, most feature-filled version of Android that has been released so far. Much of the Android world remains fragmented because device makers continue to load older versions of Android onto their devices that they sell in the marketplace.

The latest market share figures from the Android Developers Website show that KitKat 4.4 is running on 1.8 percent of the Android devices in use today, while the previous Jelly Bean 4.1 is running on about 35.5 percent of devices. Jelly Bean 4.2 is being used on 16.3 percent of devices, while Jelly Bean 4.3 is being used on 8.9 percent of Android devices. Some 16.1 percent of devices are still running versions of Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0, according to the figures. Even ancient Froyo, Version 2.2, is being run on 1.3 percent of the Android devices in use.

These high usage figures for the older Android versions out in the wild are certainly behind Google's reported efforts to get device makers to move forward more quickly with the latest version of the mobile operating system.

"According to one online source, Google would like smartphone makers like Samsung, HTC, LG, ZTE, Motorola and others to abide by a simple rule; if you develop a smartphone that has access to the Google Services Framework and Google Play Store, it must be running the most recent version of Android," reported MobileBloom.

Ending, or at least greatly reducing, the fragmentation of the Android market has been a goal of Google for some time. The idea is that by releasing and promoting the newest versions of Android, users will get the latest features faster, and its evolution will continue more strongly, compared with having multiple systems out there that are getting old rather than advancing the platform.

Google did not immediately respond to an email inquiry from eWEEK seeking comment about the Android rumors.

Google released KitKat 4.4 in October 2013 and gave it a host of features that allow it to perform well on older devices, according to an earlier eWEEK report. The first new device running KitKat 4.4, the new Nexus 5 smartphone, was simultaneously released at that time for $349 for a 16GB version or $399 for a 32GB version.

Google Pressures Device Makers to Use KitKat Android 4.4: Reports

When the KitKat 4.4 operating system updates began to roll out, they were automatically being sent out initially to all Nexus 4, Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 devices, as well as the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One Google Play Edition devices.

One of the key features of KitKat 4.4 is that it includes reduced memory needs so that it can run on a much broader range of devices, including entry-level devices that have as little as 512MB of RAM. That big change was meant to help move the Android ecosystem forward as it battles with competitors from Apple, Microsoft and BlackBerry.

The first news about the new KitKat broke in early September 2013, when Google announced that it would go by the KitKat name as part of a marketing tie-in with the famous Hershey's candy bar. The KitKat name displaced months of rumors that the next version of the OS would be named Android Key Lime Pie. What's perhaps more interesting for users is that the new version of the Android mobile operating system was numbered 4.4, and not 5.0 as was also long rumored, meaning that it is perhaps an evolutionary release rather than a revolutionary version.

Users were waiting for the next version of Android since Android 4.1 Jelly Bean debuted in July 2012 on various devices. The 4.1 final release came just a few weeks after its big splash in late June 2012 at Google's I/O developers conference.

An interim Version 4.3 of Android followed the original 4.1 release in July 2013, which included new developer features such as restricted profiles, Bluetooth Smart Support and improved 3D graphics. Android 4.3 was described by Google as a sweeter version of Jelly Bean. Android 4.3 included new APIs and capabilities for developers to incorporate into their Android apps.

In October 2013, Google announced to developers that KitKat would deal differently with Short Message Service (SMS) apps that use hidden APIs, so it began advising developers of the changes so they could adjust their SMS apps for the next version of Android.

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