Android 4.4 KitKat isn't just an advertising coup. According to former Wall Street Journal reporter Amir Efrati, it will also be Google's latest attempt to make cheaper Android devices attainable, and prep the mobile OS for wearable computing.
Will KitKat take on Android fragmentation?
According to Efrati, who says he's had covert access to the Android 4.4 feature list, the key improvement will be better memory management to allow "entry-level devices" to run with just 512MB of RAM. Presently, less than half of Android devices are running the latest version of the operating system, which can be an issue for app developers who can't rely on their audience having recent features that are added in each subsequent revision. In July, Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich told us that Android 4.x was too bloated for cheap phones: perhaps if Google fixes that, it can help address the so-called fragmentation issue.
Other alleged new features in Android 4.4 could help make future Google smartwatches more useful and power-efficient than before. With support for three new sensors, including a step detector, step counter, and geomagnetic rotation vector, Android 4.4 devices could become more useful as fitness trackers or (as Efrati suggests) help pinpoint users more accurately than mere GPS and Wi-Fi. Bluetooth HID over GATT and Bluetooth MAP, two other additions, seem geared towards wearables as well.
Last but not least, Efrati reports that KitKat will include native support for your phone to become an infrared remote control, and to emulate payment cards that use near-field communication.
We're expecting Google to announce the Nexus 5 and Android 4.4 KitKat any day now, so it shouldn't be long before we confirm the truth.
Update: Efrati is answering questions on Twitter and on Google+ about Android 4.4's feature list, and a few tidbits stand out. Android 4.4 will reportedly have a fullscreen mode that hides the status bar, allowing developers to use the entire screen's real estate for their apps. There's more evidence for wearable computing, too. Efrati says Android 4.4 will collect sensor data and other data in batches before transmitting it over a network, allowing devices to consume less power than if they were constantly sending data between, say, a smartwatch and a phone. Another addition is enhanced notification listener services, which could theoretically help a watch-like device display information on your wrist that's generated by your phone.