How Does Google’s New KitKat System Measure Up?

Whenever Android creates another operating system, food lovers everywhere lick their lips in anticipation to see what it will be called. Google’s new Android operating system, named KitKat, didn’t disappoint candy lovers, nor does it disappoint those who want more speed out of their smartphones.

KitKat is leaner, sleeker and faster than previous Android operating systems. For those who want something more, like a unifying theme or stunning graphics, the higher performance comes at the expense of aesthetics and visuals. For those who wanted Kitkat to be a direct response to iOS 7, keep waiting.

Let’s take a look at KitKat from an operations standpoint.

Setup

KitKat is very easy and user-friendly to set up. As usual for Android, KitKat walks you through the process of setup and teaches you core features along the way such as Google Now, which is being marketed as an “intelligent personal assistant.” If you think this sounds a lot like Apple’s Siri, you have plenty of company. It’s not quite Siri, but it’s a very good Google Now.

Home Screen

The Google black bar across the top of the phone is gone. Most of the information is still there, such as time, signal strength and power, but there is no black bar. While we mentioned the lack of stunning visuals, there is one cool visual on the home screen—the background oscillates with your movement when you swipe left or right.

Hanging Out

The Google Hangouts app has been expanded, it now features not only Google+ video chat and texting, it also features Google Talk and SMS messaging. The one drawback for many is that it’s “always on.” While you can suppress the messages, you can’t actually turn Google Hangouts off.

One feature “inspired” by Apple that many like is “emojis.” Emojis come in the form of animals, faces or esoteric symbols and many think Android’s are superior to Apple’s. Some of the new Hangout features are available in previous versions of Android OS, but not all.

NFC Payments

KitKat includes support for Near Field Communication (NFC) actions. We won’t get into a full discussion of the technical aspects of NFC here, but basically it allows you to use your smartphone as a virtual wallet in any retail outlet that is set up for NFC payments. Google wants you to use Google Wallet, but other NFC apps work as well.

Now, if only more stores would get set up to accept NFC payments.

Integrating Search into the Smartphone

If an unknown caller dials your smartphone, Android uses Google Maps to determine if the caller is a business with a location in your area. You can also use voice in addition to text for the search function. There are more features related to search and there is one important drawback—if you don’t adjust your settings properly, someone who has your phone number will be able to find your Google account.

OK Google

KitKat is an “always listening” OS. Anytime you say, “OK Google” you engage Google Now. You will need to have a phone that is capable of using Google Now, such as a Nexus 4. We mentioned earlier that Google Now isn’t quite as sophisticated as Siri but it does provide great search results from voice. Its best results come from graphic “cards” such as driving directions, stocks and weather.

The main difference and where Google Now falls short when compared to Siri is that Siri seems to have a much more intuitive and versatile algorithm when it comes to interpreting phrases and different ways of saying the same thing. As long as Google Now can pull up a graphic card, it is as good as anything Siri can offer. However, there aren’t enough “cards” to cater to the near-infinite amount of possible verbal requests and commands.

So What Does KitKat Mean to an App Developer?

We think KitKat is going to mean status quo to many developers, but we also think there are a few opportunities for savvy developers to gain an “edge.” The faster, sleeker and more efficient response times mean that game developers don’t have to worry about their games not running fast enough on the new system.

We also see savvy developers finding a way to take advantage of Google Now’s search algorithm. It may be worth doing the research to find out what search commands end up on cards and what ones throw the user into the search mode.

Otherwise, the same advice we have given since we started our business will remain relevant. If you want to make money on an app, find a niche and solve one of its biggest problems.

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