The new version of Android is finally here, and its biggest feature isn't something literally new, but a new stage for an old fan favourite. Google Now is getting more limelight than ever, and even folks with older handsets will (theoretically) be able to get in on the fun.
With the update to 4.4, the ability to jump to Google Now by saying "OK Google" comes to vanilla Android, although only for the Nexus 5 right now. Google Now is also making an appearance as an actual page on the homescreen through the addition of a new Nexus 5 launcher. It's unclear how much of this will come to other phones. Update: Yup the "OK Google" is only for the Nexus 5 in part because you need chip-level hardware to support it. But expect that to be a feature in a lot more Android phones to come, definitely any that are repping a Snapdragon 800!
And it's not just the same Google Now you've had all year; Google says the prescient service is about to get updates for even more new cards that will try to guess what you want before you're even thinking it. That will sure be handy for when that smartwatch comes out, eh?
There are also a couple of app updates. We hear what was coming for Hangouts a few days ago and, surprise surprise, the new version of that app with its SMS capabilities built in will be arriving with 4.4. The voice-calling stuff that Hangouts has on iOS is still MIA though.
And then there are some other, tinier modifications as well. The phone app now auto-prioritises the people you talk to most, and caller ID will Google a number and match it up with Google Business listings if it's not already in your address book. Rad!
While KitKat is launching with the Nexus 5, and shortly rolling out to other Nexus and Google Play Edition devices, folks with older handsets have stuff to get excited about too. This is the boring but important crux of the KitKat upgrade: with a wealth of under-the-hood improvements, KitKat is actually reducing the toll the OS takes on a phone's guts. Thanks to a reduction in KitKat's footprint, it can run "comfortably" on devices with as low as 512MB of RAM, so KitKat won't just be for the high-grade device elite once it starts trickling down through carriers. Maybe we can finally get some unity, although that's the promise every time around. This time, there's no real technical reason it shouldn't happen though. But carriers and their skins will surely find a way to keep the future from actually showing up.
Android 4.4 KitKat, which comes on Nexus 5, will also soon be available on Nexus 4, 7, 10, the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One Google Play edition devices in the coming weeks, and hopefully everyone else in the not-to-distant future.