In a piece yesterday CNet reported that Android 4.4 (KitKat) is addressing Android fragmentation by decreasing the memory requirements of Android. Lowering the memory requirements allows for the possibility of installing Android 4.4 on older hardware.
I am skeptical that Google providing the ability to install Android 4.4 on older hardware means that the hardware OEMs will actually release the upgrade for their older phones. Google is even not doing this as they are not making Android 4.4 available for the Galaxy Nexus. The hardware companies would much rather have us buy new phones than continue upgrading our older phones.
Ars Technica has an article that I think provides a stronger case for how Android 4.4 is addressing fragmentation. In the article, Ars Technica reports that Google has merged the Android home screen/launcher with Google Search. Basically, Google Search is now the official Android launcher, and this is how Google has enabled Active Listening whenever the home screen is displayed. It is also how you can now swipe left to go to Google Now rather than either long pressing the Home button or swiping from the bottom to the top of the screen.
The Ars Technica article also suggests that it means one will be able to download the “stock” Android launcher from Google Play, and in fact, the Android 4.3 version of Google Search is in the Play store right now. What this means is that if you have a non-stock Android, such as the HTC One from AT&T, you will be able to convert the look and function of the HTC One to stock Android by downloading and installing Google Search.
- If this is true, it also means that if you have a phone running Android 4.3 you will likely get the new Google Search and Active Listening before the Android 4.4 upgrade is available for your phone.
What does this mean to HTC Sense and Samsung’s Touch Wiz? Assuming that HTC and Samsung don’t block the ability to install Google Search from the Play store, it means that users will have the ability to use either the standard Google UI for Android or keep the one they provide. Users win because they get to choose the UI they will use to operate their phone, but the OEMs could lose what they consider to be a key differentiator.
- It also means that the OEM experiences will have to survive based on their merits rather than being forced upon users. I wonder whether sales of the Play Editions of the HTC One and Samsung S4 have anything to do with this direction by Google.
I assume that Google will continue to provide ways for third party launchers to use Google Search otherwise Google will essentially kill such launchers and I expect neither Samsung or HTC will be happy. Considering the tweets from HTC today that they intend to provide Android 4.4 for all HTC devices, including carrier models, within 90 days, I got to believe Google is in fact providing a way for HTC to integrate Google search into Sense. An Android phone that does not have access to Google Search does not make any sense, and would be detrimental to the purpose behind Android.
In June I wrote an article here titled Where Is Google Taking Android? The article is an expansion of one written by JR Raphael on how Google has been deconstructing Android by separating apps like Gmail from Android and making them available in the Play store. The reason why Google has separated their apps is to address the pain caused by hardware OEMS when they don’t provide timely upgrades to Android, by providing a direct way for them to update functionality that people actually use. In the article I wrote:
Some key components of the Google Experience remain bundled with Android, and in order for the fragmentation issue to be completely resolved they will also need to be separated. The key components to look at are the Launcher and the Play store.
According to Ars Technica, I was right about the Launcher. It will be interesting to see whether Google takes the final step of providing a direct way for users to install the Play app on their phones as Amazon has done with with their app store.