Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Google Aims for the Next Billion Users With Android KitKat

The new version of Android’s mobile operating system, called KitKat, has a more immersive design, a cleaner font, quicker ways to call local businesses, and integrated tools for adding location pins and emoji into messages.

The Android KitKat keyboard supports emoji input across apps.

But the real appeal of the operating system is that it can run on lower-end devices, as it requires only 512 megabytes of RAM.

“Smartphone penetration is less than five percent in emerging markets,” said Android head Sundar Pichai while announcing KitKat and its companion flagship phone, the Nexus 5, at an event in San Francisco today. “For 2014, our goal is, how do we reach the next billion people.”

Google is starting to do good business in countries like Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, India and Mexico, Pichai said, where business is tripling on an annual basis. But, in those countries, phone makers are selling new Android phones with Android Gingerbread, a.k.a. version 2.3, which launched two years ago. (KitKat is version 4.4.)

That’s because, to keep prices down, these manufacturers are including only 512MB of memory, and the newer versions of Android require more than that. Until KitKat.

KitKat will also help non-Google apps run more smoothly by detecting available memory and communicating that to mobile apps. “Smart developers can degrade applications gracefully,” Pichai said.

The larger agenda here is to address one of Android’s biggest problems: Fragmentation, where different phones work differently, and nearly half of devices haven’t been upgraded to the latest operating system.

Pichai, of course, doesn’t like the F-word. “What we call today ‘fragmentation,’ those people wouldn’t have gotten those smartphones without the ability to ship them with Gingerbread,” he said. “Unlike other players (he means Apple), we aren’t focused on a segment of the market. Internally, we wake up and we think, how can we make something for everyone?”

KitKat launches today, and will be available as an over-the-air update for Android phones “in the coming weeks,” Pichai said.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik