We already knew Google’s next update to Android is codenamed KitKat after the candy. Now, thanks to a leaked confidential briefing file Google shared with some partners, we know what powers KitKat will bring to the army of Android phones and tablets.
Android 4.4 seems mainly to be designed to tackle the persistent problem of Android fragmentation: So many variants of the OS are running on so many devices with different specs that it makes it hard to develop meaningful apps for it. To solve these issues, Google has pushed to make 4.4 work well even on low-end phones, of the sort that typically ship from their makers with a two- or three-generation-old Android install.
More interestingly, Android KitKat includes support for three new types of sensor–geomagnetic rotation vector, step detection, and step counting. The first sensor will help accurately position the orientation of a phone in space. The second two are unashamedly directed at the wearable tech revolution and, specifically, the rise in health wearables. Apple implemented a dedicated low-power motion sensing chip on the iPhone 5S, but since Google can’t do this for all Androids, it can at least make the OS wearable-friendly. There’s also better support for NFC payment technology and a TV remote control system.
This is an important update for Google, and while it does bring some great new ideas, it doesn’t seem destined to tackle some of Android’s bigger flaws, such as user-unfriendly UIs and overly complex services. Will it end fragmentation? This seems unlikely, since more and more companies prefer to layer their own UIs on top of Android.