updated 02:22 pm EDT, Thu October 31, 2013
KitKat said to run on lower-power devices
Google on Thursday announced the release of the long-expected new version of its Android operating system, version 4.4 KitKat. The new version of Android will come preinstalled on Google's new Nexus 5 handset, which was also announced on Thursday, and Google will be pushing it out to other Nexus devices in the coming weeks. This latest build, according to Google's Android blog, is aimed at decreasing the amount of fragmentation in the Android ecosystem, and the search giant altered the platform to make sure that was the case.
The newest version of Android, as was previously rumored, has been tailored to work on devices with entry-level specifications. Google says it accomplished this by slimming down Android's memory footprint "by doing things like removing unnecessary background services and reducing the memory consumption of features that you use all the time." The company says that it did so not only within Android but across Google services like Chrome and YouTube.
As a result of this slimming own, Google says that KitKat can run "comfortably" on devices with as little as 512MB of RAM. While most high-end Android phones are now at or above 2GB of RAM, lower-end devices are increasingly popular in developing markets. Those are the markets that are growing the fastest, and Google notes in its KitKat announcement that it is hoping to put "Android 4.4 within reach for the next billion smartphone users."
In addition to the lower memory requirements, Google has tweaked the interface for built-in Android apps such as the phone dialer. The phone app can now search across a user's contacts, nearby places, and Google Apps accounts for contact information. Google has also integrated SMS and MMS messaging into its Hangouts app, and Google Voice implementation is said to be on the way.
Android 4.4 KitKat debuts with the Nexus 5, which became available for order on Thursday. Google says that the operating system update will be pushed to the Nexus 4, Nexus 7, Nexus 10, and the Google Play editions of the Galaxy S4 and HTC One "in the coming weeks."