Android 4.4 had been unveiled and released. Let’s get right to first impressions. All in all, I would call it an iterative update. Though there’s a lot of new stuff going on under the hood, visually, it mostly a collection of tweaks; many of which have been available for years from third party developers and custom ROMs.

Paying Lip Service to Android Fragmentation

Under the hood, the chief new feature is improved memory management. In other words, apps will use less RAM. In a bid to combat fragmentation, Android 4.4 KitKat had been designed to work on devices with as low as 512MB RAM.

While this is very commendable, I have to to question Google’s decision and execution. Firstly, they are paying lip service to this 512MB RAM compatibility feature. How? They have announced that the Nexus 3 aka Galaxy Nexus/Nexus Prime will not be updated to KitKat despite it being a device equipped with 1GB of RAM. And if Google is not leading by example, what hope is there of other OEMs doing so for even lesser equipped devices?

Of course, there’s another reason why OEMs won’t update compatible older devices; they want to sell new phones. More importantly, I believe that 512MB RAM is not enough for true and efficient multitasking in Android. And considering the almost invisible price differences, why not just promote the decent 1GB RAM?

Another reason why I think this 512MB RAM issue is detrimental to the Android community and the smartphone industry as a whole is the screen resolution of contemporary phones equipped with 512MB RAM. – the so-called feature phones. They are mostly 320 x 240 or 480 x 360. I have found that anything less than WVGA (800 x 480) is less than optimum and is therefore incapable of providing a decent android experience. With resolutions less than WVGA, many screen elements just don’t fit and many things end up being garbled, most especially with third party apps.

Consequently, a sizeable number of users of these less than ideal feature phones would likely conclude that Android is not a good platform. So the question is why is Google not moving things along by using its position and influence to redefine what constitutes a feature an entry level smart phone? LCD prices are down and seeing as 720p is the new midrange, there’s no reason why WVGA should not serve as the entry level resolution.

Old is the new new

Android 4.4 KitKat ago brings some visual changes such as the translucent status bar. Another ‘new’ feature is the ability to rearrange your homescreens. Now these two features are in my opinion, not newsworthy chiefly because they are old features albeit features enjoyed on various skins and overlays of Android. Rearranging homescreens is a feature enjoyed on Samsung powered Froyo devices. So why does the big G feel the need to mention such a feature? Who knows? I guess it borders on being lazy.

Google is of course not alone in this practice. Their frenemy on the other side of the pond, Microsoft is just as guilty. Windows Phone is just about to get a Notifications Center. Really Microsoft, what have you been doing all this time? But I digress. This ridiculous practice is akin to an automaker announcing central locking as a big draw.

There are of course other features of Android 4.4 KitKat that are noteworthy. The new phone dialer app/module has some new tricks up its sleeves. Its smart dialing capabilities have been expanded to include not just contacts but also numbers of nearby businesses as well. Allegedly, there is some ability of being able to identify anonymous numbers. How well this will work remains to be seen. At least, now I know why Google bullied me into supplying a telephone number just to get a custom Google + URL.

Google Now is always on now. Of course touchless voice control debuted on the Moto X, another Google product.

Hangouts has also replaced the messaging app/module. It’ll now handle chats, video calls and SMS. What I haven’t determined is whether the SMS component will be carrier independent or not. Hopefully, it is a blend between the two: Sending it for free via the internet (Gmail SMS) when there is a data connection or via the carrier when there isn’t.

There are probably more features that will be discovered in the coming days, but these are the major ones as highlighted by Google itself. So what’s the first impression? Android 4.4 KitKat is mostly a cosmetic update. There is a lot of room for improvement; drastic improvement but it seems that after years of gorging on all the desserts and snacks of Android ranging from cupcakes to KitKat chocolate wafers, the designers, developers and executives have gotten fat.

This post was first published on Olawale’s blog.

Olawale Sanni Author

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