Android 4.4: Opening Android?

Android is known for being customizable. You can add widgets, change the launcher, and even change the icons. But it has never been possible to get close to a full Google experience on skinned devices.

So enter Android 4.4 Kit Kat. It seems likely that it will break Android into multiple Play Store updated pieces, and open Android up to be customized in different ways.

1. Google Experience Launcher.

Note that the package name of this launcher starts with like Google's other Play Store apps like Gmail instead of like the current Android launcher. This implies the launcher will now be updated from the Play Store.

2. Status bar

Notice that only when in the GEL does the status bar and nav bar become transparent. The behavior is not system wide so Android 4.4 may grant the ability for launchers to modify the status bar and nav bar, which would be a great boon in modifying stock OEM skins.

3. Notification Shade, Quick Settings

Which leads to point number 3. In Android 4.3, the Notification Listener API was introduced and there were a few hints in the code about custom shades that never fully materialized. But given that Android 4.4 can allow 3rd party apps to modify the status bar, it's likely Google added an intent for swiping down from the status bar and would allow custom notification shades and quick settings (and of course add its own app to the Play Store). One of the few places you couldn't replace the OEM skin could now be open to modification.

4. Lock Screen

Given that there are already lock screen replacement apps, it's not unreasonable that Google could modify Android a bit to let these custom lock screens fully take over and never see the stock lock screen. And Google would add the 4.4 lock screen to the Play Store.

5. Settings

The other place that people couldn't modify is the settings menu. But third party apps can already modify settings. It would only be a short step to give these apps a bit more access so that third party settings apps become possible. Google could add Settings to the Play Store and hopefully give it a quick update when necessary (terrible gradient fix plz)

6. Everything else

Phone, People, Camera/Gallery, Clock, and Downloads are not Play Store updated and some of those badly need updates. Google could put all of them in the Play Store while still releasing source code and all that for the open source community.


Android updates are becoming more and more like rolling releases like Chrome. With 4.4, Android would almost be a completely rolling release OS, with every user facing component independently updated from the Play Store without OEM or carrier interference. Google's core apps could be available to everyone using Android, regardless of OEM skin. It would fulfill KitKat's goal of making an amazing Android experience available for everyone. At the same time, those capabilities could open up Android to far more modification from third party apps than has ever been possible before. And maybe, just maybe, OEMs would adopt a similar practice of uploading their apps to the Play Store so they can update without carrier interference. Kit Kat shows a more updated and open future in Android. Or maybe it's just the fan in me dreaming.