Google yesterday announced its new Nexus 5 phone running Android 4.4 (KitKat) operating system. Although the OS is only a 0.1 upgrade from 4.3 (Jelly Bean), it offers a variety of useful enhancements for consumers and enterprises.
KitKat is now available on only the Nexus 5, which is manufactured by LG Electronics. The phone is similar to, but not exactly the same as, the new LG G2. The Nexus 5 includes a 2.26 GHz Snapdragon 800 processor; 4.95 inch IPS LCD screen with 1920 x 1080 resolution; 2 GB of RAM; 8 megapixel back camera; 1.3 megapixel front camera; and 2,300 mAh battery. Initial reviews are quite positive.
It's now available unlocked and contract-free in the United States and nine other countries from the Google Play Store and will be offered "soon" by AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Amazon, Best Buy, and Radio Shack. If you or your company use Verizon Wireless, that's too bad; Verizon isn't carrying it, at least for now. The 16 GB version in black or white is $349, and the 32 GB version is $399 from Google Play, although perhaps cellular operators and retailers could offer different prices.
The phone has plenty of power for KitKat, but even less powerful phones will be able to run it. Google specifically designed the OS to support phones with as little as 512 MB of RAM. Many Android phones, particularly less advanced models, run an older version of Android because their components can't handle newer upgrades.
KitKat removes unnecessary background services and lowers some memory requirements. Also, Google has improved the efficiency of its applications, such as Chrome and YouTube. In addition, a new KitKat API allows programs to determine the amount of RAM in a device and run a version that's appropriate for the memory.
As a result, consumers and enterprises -- especially in emerging nations where cheaper, less advanced phones are more popular -- could use KitKat on their devices. This conceivably may reduce Android's so-called OS "fragmentation" problem and curtail some of the frustration IT directors have faced, trying to deal with employee phones running different versions of the Android OS.
IT directors addressing wireless printing will find that KitKat allows printing of just about any content via WiFi or cloud-based services. Printing also can be accomplished within applications, such as Google Drive, Chrome, and Quickoffice. Third-party developers may enhance their apps to display lists of available printers, change paper sizes, select specific pages to print, and enable printer-specific capabilities.
Speaking of clouds, the new OS has a "storage access framework." It enables file storage services -- either local servers or cloud-based (such as Google Drive, Box, and Dropbox) -- to provide access from multiple Android apps. Users could browse and open documents (including text, photos, audio, and videos), and then edit, delete, or save them from other apps.
Enterprises that use Google Hangouts might like the integration of SMS, which enables users to send and receive text messages within the app. Also, a user can transmit a map of his current location instead of having to type an address. Photos also may be attached, either from the phone's local storage, Google Drive, or any other cloud service that enables the capability.
One new cloud-plus-local feature, "deep linking," allows a user to obtain information from both Google Search and a phone's apps in a single query. For example, searching for information about Microsoft Surface computers could bring up information not only from Search but also from the online reseller NewEgg, assuming the app is installed.
So far, only about a dozen apps can integrate with deep linking, but other applications will be allowed. I assume many companies will want to hook their apps into this feature to promote their products and services.
Taken individually, many of the OS enhancements I've discussed -- and many more Google has listed, such as voice search, full-screen apps, and enhanced Google Now -- might not seem particularly exciting. But taken together, KitKat contains a wealth of useful features for consumers and enterprises alike.
I'll have lots of time to explore the Nexus 5 and KitKat because I ordered the 16 GB version in black, which should arrive in less than two weeks. Unfortunately, my version is sold out, and the others won't be available for at least two to four weeks.
Enterprises that want to test KitKat will need to wait, unless they can wheedle some Nexus 5s from employees who ordered them yesterday.
— Alan Reiter, President, Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing