Google's long-awaited new KitKat 4.4 Android mobile operating system is now officially out and will start rolling out to eligible devices over the next few weeks with myriad new features that will help it run well even on older devices.
In addition, the first device running KitKat 4.4, the new Nexus 5 smartphone, is also now available through the Google Play store, at $349 for a 16GB version or $399 for a 32GB version. The new Nexus is available in white or black. Other retailers will begin selling it soon.
Both announcements were unveiled by Dave Burke, engineering director for the Android platform, in an Oct. 31 post on the Android Developers Blog.
When the KitKat 4.4 operating system updates begin to roll out, they will go 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, according to Burke.
But perhaps the biggest news from the coming rollout is that Google has just kicked off a campaign called "Project Svelte," which is "an effort to reduce the memory needs of Android so that it can run on a much broader range of devices, including entry-level devices that have as little as 512MB of RAM," wrote Burke. "From the kernel to system, frameworks and apps, we've reduced memory footprint and improved memory management so Android can run comfortably on only 512MB of RAM. We did this not only on Android but across Google apps, like Chrome and YouTube."
What that means, he wrote, is that "by supporting a broader range of devices, Android 4.4 will help move the Android ecosystem forward" so that a wider group of Android users can get the latest features and capabilities on their devices, even if they are not the newest devices. "Now all users will be able to enjoy the very best that Android has to offer, on the devices that best meet their needs," he wrote.
For Android developers, KitKat has its own benefits, according to Burke, including a new full-screen immersive mode that provides new ways to create beautiful apps. The new mode gives developers the chance to let their apps or games "use every pixel on the screen to showcase content and capture touch events," he wrote.
Also available is a new transitions framework that makes it easier for developers to animate the states in their app's user interfaces, as well as a new printing framework that lets developers add the convenience of printing to their apps.
A complete overview of Android 4.4 platform highlights is available for review by developers, as well as documentation about other new capabilities and APIs in an API Overview. A series of DevBytes videos on KitKat are also available for viewing.
The first news about the new KitKat broke in early September, 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 is 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 have been 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 this past July, which included new developer features, including 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, 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 can adjust their SMS apps for the next version of Android.