It's that time again! What to expect in Kit Kat, Google's imminent Android release

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Every day is a tease: Will Google launch Kit Kat today? Was that really the Nexus 5 we saw floating around in that one video? Is this real life?

The Android scene is never short on rumors and speculation, so distinguishing between what’s hearsay and what’s legit can be difficult. Although we can certainly conjure up a list of wild features that we hope Google will announce in the 4.4 version of Android (if only for shock value), brazen speculation can take us only so far.

With that in mind, it’s time to distill everything that is actually relevant and informative among all the Kit Kat rumormongering, and to pick out what we might plausibly expect to see in the next version of Android.

Even more cloud living

Android is already heavily cloud-centric, so it stands to reason that Google will fold more native integration of cloud services into the next Android version. Take Cloud Print, which lets you print from an Android device to a Google Cloud Print–connected printer. It was released earlier this year as a stand-alone application in the Google Play Store, but judging from a leaked screenshot (below) of an early build of Kit Kat, Google will likely roll the feature into Android rather than offer it as a separate download.

IMAGE: Android Police

Google might also integrate Wallet directly into the OS, giving new energy to its ‘Tap to Pay’ feature, which allows you to pay for small, sundry items (Starbucks coffee, McDonalds sandwiches) with your phone. The same leaked screenshots that suggest cloud printing is on deck also reveal a Payments section in the Settings menu (see below), lending credence to the notion that you’ll no longer have to navigate through to the Google Play Store to enter or edit your payment information. That convenience alone could get more people to use Google’s Wallet platform.

The direct integration of Wallet might also quell the proliferation of competing payment apps, not to mention the Isis alliance that pits AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon against Google Wallet. A new, baked-in Google Wallet could include functionality similar to AirDrop in iOS, too, letting you “beam” money (instead of files) to friends. You may never have to carry cash again.

IMAGE: Android Police

A ‘Google Experience’

It sounds a bit more farfetched than some of the other rumors making the rounds, but Android 4.4 Kit Kat might launch alongside a Google Experience option that lets you, well, “purify” your phone’s interface. A log-file leak suggests evidence of an upcoming app called Google Home that acts as a launcher and essentially overlays the stock Google environment on top of whatever custom interface your device is running.

IMAGE: Android Police

Similar to the Developer Editions of Android hardware, the launcher would be released in the Google Play Store as a coding tool, making it cheaper and easier for developers to emulate the stock Android environment on any phone that runs Android 4.4. There’s definitely precedent for this type of utility, as Google released “pure” Android editions of the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S 4 earlier this year in part to give developers more hardware to work with than just the Nexus devices. Releasing an app to serve developer needs certainly makes sense, but obviously we don’t know how the tool might roll out to the general public.

While Android enthusiasts would certainly welcome a purification toggle, the device manufacturers wouldn’t be so keen on it. HTC and Samsung wouldn’t be able to force their Sense and TouchWiz UIs on users, and that would rob them of branding opportunities, as well as the extension of their own app ecosystems. That said, the hardware companies and Google might be able to reach a compromise: If Google Experience takes the form of a launcher, then all applications—including bloatware apps introduced by the hardware companies, carriers, and third-party app stores—would remain intact.

An interface makeover

When we talked to app developers during the lead-up to Android’s five-year anniversary, several of them posited that Google will not only introduce an updated Holo aesthetic but also make its new design parameters more malleable. Now, some ostensible Kit Kat leaks show evidence of elements such as a transparent status bar with new icons and a “flatter” look that matches what Apple and Microsoft are sporting with their mobile operating systems.

You can see what Android 4.4. Kit Kat might look like in the mockup images that Android Police published earlier this month, one of which is below.

IMAGE: Android Police

Meanwhile, an Italian Android site called TuttoAndroid posted several blurry screenshots of a puported new app drawer and lock screen. Check it out below.

IMAGE: TuttoAndroid

We’re also expecting Google to push the navigation drawer standard already implemented in its Gmail app across the OS itself. In short: Android interface elements and related apps will be updated with navigational menus that slide in from the left. Using this design standard consistently throughout the Android environment could help mitigate the design confusion caused by device manufacturers that use their own custom hardware and soft-button configurations.

Indeed, unlike iOS, Android always looks different from one phone to the next, so tightening up the design parameters can only help to deliver a more consistent user experience. Navigation drawers are already live in the latest Google Play 4.4 update, which began rolling out late last week. If you haven’t seen the update on your phone yet, don’t worry—neither have we. If you’re aching to take advantage of the new drawer, Android Central has some helpful tips on trying to force the update.

Messages done away with altogether

IMAGE: Android Developers Blog

A recent post on the Android Developers Blog states that users will be able to choose their default messaging application in Kit Kat. We’re hoping that also means a new Messages platform, which Android Police has “all but confirmed.”

We’ve already seen Google roll Talk into Hangouts, unifying the two applications, and Google announced during its "A Morning with Google+" livestream that SMS will be possible through Hangouts. If that proves to be the case, Google may eliminate the Messages app entirely and roll its features into Hangouts. It may also take a page out of the Apple and BlackBerry messaging-app playbooks by allowing users to send texts over Wi-Fi, and finally enabling better group texting. Maybe Android’s version of emoji symbols won’t be so hard to use, either.

All the necessary patches

Every new version of Android usually comes with its own performance fixes and bug patches. Android 4.2.2 introduced a built-in malware checker and a few other added security features, while Android 4.3 Jelly Bean brought with it better memory management. We expect that Kit Kat will do the same.

This story, "It's that time again! What to expect in Kit Kat, Google's imminent Android release" was originally published by TechHive.

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