Waiting For The Big Android Update
Android 4.4 KitKat is expected to be announced by the end of October. The hype cycle is beginning to hit full tilt as stream of leaks and rumors illuminate what Google will unveil the next version of Android and the flagship smartphone that will accompany it, the Nexus 5.
KitKat will be the first new named version of Android in more than a year since Jelly Bean 4.1 was introduced at Google’s I/O developer conference in the spring of 2012. Google has offered up two updates to Android since then—versions 4.2 and 4.3—that have both been rolled up in the Jelly Bean moniker. Now that Google is almost ready to unveil the “K” desert version of Android (Google normally names each new version of the operating system after sweet treats in alphabetical order), users, developers, manufacturers and consumers are expecting a lot.
The last two versions of Jelly Bean haven’t given us a ton to be excited about. The biggest feature in version 4.3 was the integration of Bluetooth Low Energy to the Android hardware specification along with OpenGL for Embedded Systems. These are good updates for app developers out there but leave much to be desired for users that are looking for a fresh coat of paint and improved user experience.
The Google Experience
In that vein, the rumor mill points towards a major feature that will change some of the fundamental usability of Android: the “Google Experience.”
The Google Experience Launcher is rumored to be a hub launcher for Google apps and widgets on Android devices. Google Experience will be a form of launcher within Android that will not be tied specifically to version 4.4 KitKat but will rather be an app through the Google Play app store that will be compatible with devices running Android back to version 2.2 Froyo.
A launcher is also known in general terms as a “skin” but the terms are not mutually exclusive. The Google Experience Launcher is rumored by the blog Android Police to be a widget that live on the Android homescreen in which Google features like Search and Google Now are heavily integrated, can read the data within the widget and update itself. A launcher would also control aspects such as app folders and homescreens (which are rumored to be infinite instead of limited to five as they are in current builds of Android).
What would Google Experience mean for Android users? Speculation is that KitKat 4.4 will enable support for lower-end Android devices. Google Experience would likely be the vehicle for that.
If you have been following the evolution of Android as an operating system, you will note that the Google has made some pretty significant changes to how Android works on a smartphone. In the past, Google used to tie almost all of the functionality of its own apps to the Android kernel. That meant developers and consumers would need a certain version of Android to get new features. Wanted the latest update to the Google Play app store (formerly Android Market)? You needed to update your Android software. How about the latest APIs and user interface in Google Maps and Navigation? Update Android. Gmail, Calendar, Talk (now Hangouts) or any other Google service? It was tied to the Android kernel.
Google changed all of that with the release of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, decoupling its own apps from the Android operating system. Instead of being tied to Android, features and APIs like Maps either stand alone as their own apps that live in the Google Play store and/or are tied to what is called Google Play Services.