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App Development for Android 4.4 KitKat and Nexus 5
Along with a list of new features, the KitKat system delivers improved performance, a more ‘polished design’, a more immersive user experience, and a new transition framework.
A Cohesive Android Experience
The performance optimizations are quite interesting from an app development and product owner perspective.
It lets budget devices and older devices run KitKat, which can lead to a reduction in the number of devices running older versions of Android and therefore also reduce the number of different Android versions your app needs to support.
This possible outcome is also aligned with Google’s goal to offer the same Android experience across different devices, thereby solving the platform’s fragmentation problem.
A Redesign that Lets Your Apps Shine
Another notable area of change for app developers and designers is the KitKat user interface.
Since Android 4.0 the user interface has been dominated by a light blue color used e.g. for text in the top bar and for highlighting button click states. With KitKat, this is now a greyscale.
This change of color improves consistency between the system and custom apps and lets the design of custom apps stand out more.
A More Immersive Experience
Immersive mode is a new feature, which is also interesting for app designers. This feature can be implemented in an app to hide the top bar and Android system buttons at the bottom of the screen.
While this is probably most relevant for games and e-book reader apps, it’s also possible to make the top and bottom areas transparent. This means that it’s possible to see a little more of the app behind the system controls, which lets you offer a more immersive experience.
Another new tool for app developers and designers is the new transition framework. This makes it easier to create high-quality animations, which has previously required considerably more work than on other mobile platforms.
Features that Expand Smartphone use
Among the long list of new features in KitKat, some of them are minor and primarily relevant for phone users.
Other features have more impact on app development or can directly result in new use cases for existing or new apps. Here are a few examples:
Support for printing photos, documents, and web pages via Google Cloudprint or a printer with another Android interface.
New Chrome-based web viewfor accurate rendering of in-app web components.
Infrared (IR) blaster support for remote control for TVs and other devices.
Support for the Bluetooth Message Access Profile (MAP), e.g. to enable communication between apps and Bluetooth enabled cars.
More battery-friendly support for the use of location monitoring and sensors like pedometers.
A new open architecture for NFC payments called Host Card Emulation. Apps can emulate NFC smart cards while also working as card readers.
Nexus 5: Improved Touch Response
As usual when a major Android version is released, Google also released a new phone with a raw version of the Android update, i.e. a version of Android that isn’t modified by phone manufactures.
This time, it was the long anticipated Nexus 5, which is currently available in 10 countries – sadly, Denmark is not one of these countries.
Nexus 5 has high-end specifications as expected, but one of the most interesting features is the improved touchscreen response, which is made possible by a combination of the new hardware and the improved software in KitKat.
Higher Pixel Density Means More Complexity
One other thing to note about the Nexus 5 is the screen’s very high pixel density.
Nexus 5 isn’t the first phone within the so-called XXHDPI screen class. XXHDPI sets higher requirements for app developers: For an app to look as sharp and nice as the rest of the system on a device, developers have to supply app graphics in a much higher resolution than previously.
That said, the future standard will, most likely, be the even higher XXXHDPI, which is already supported by the Android system.