Subtle Refinements with Android KitKat

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
So my Motorola X and Nexus 7 (2012) have both been up and running with Android 4.4 KitKat for a few weeks now. I was actually pretty shocked when Verizon Wireless rolled out the update so early given their less than stellar track record in timeliness for OTA updates. Regardless, I've had some time to play around with KitKat on both devices and I've been really pleased with the overall experience provided by the newest Android iteration.

I've been on Android since the good old Froyo days and it has been really great to see how far the platform has come in terms of both feature-set and user-experience. KitKat certainly isn't the giant jump forward that Ice Cream Sandwich was, but the subtle refinements introduced throughout KitKat go a long ways toward demonstrating new levels of cohesiveness and integration throughout Android.

For starters, the always-on listening detection that first appeared on the Moto X has now rolled out to all Android devices running KitKat. That same functionality is also now available in Google Chrome through a first-party Chrome extension. I find myself using the hot-word voice detection in a couple of very specific scenarios.

For example, when I'm baking in the kitchen and my hands are dirty, I'll just ask Google to perform a metric conversion. Similarly, when I'm getting ready in the morning and my hands are full, I'll ask Google for the daily weather forecast. It's still something of a niche feature, but its deeper integration into Android will certainly make it a more viable option for a larger subset of users.

KitKat also does a lot in terms of user-interface enhancements. The new Immersive mode prioritizes on-screen content and works really well in certain scenarios like reading a book or playing music. I love the way album art is prioritized on the lock-screen now. It looks absolutely gorgeous.
There have also been some pretty big changes to the way calls and text-messages are handled. Google Hangouts is now the default way of sending and receiving SMS text-messages. It's a change that I welcome, but I'd still like to see further improvements with the way that SMS messaging is integrated into the Hangouts app.

The phone app itself has also received some pretty hefty upgrades, with more to come in early 2014. It took some getting used to, but I generally think the calling experience on KitKat is a big step up from earlier iterations of Android.

Overall, I'm excited to be using KitKat and pretty pleased with the results so far. The new OS runs smoother on my devices than JellyBean, and offers some nice new features and subtle improvements without making any drastic changes. I'd very much call this round of changes to Android one of incremental enhancement rather than dramatic improvement, and I mean that in a good way.

Android is a maturing platform from both a user-interface and a functionality perspective. It's nice to see this newest upgrade reflect that maturity. 

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A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.