Google’s engineers developed Android 4.4 KitKat by crippling their Nexus 4 phones

BY Stefan Constantinescu

Published 27 Nov 2013

There’s a term in the technology space called “Dog Fooding” which is defined as using the products and services you create in order to make them better. It makes sense when you think about it, why would Google want their employees using Microsoft’s Outlook program to handle their email when they should instead be using Gmail? According to Dave Burke, the Head of Engineering for Android, this was the attitude used to make Android 4.4 KitKat run on low end devices.

Slight problem, a “low-end” Nexus doesn’t exist, right? This is where engineering talent comes in. The engineers working on “Project Svelte”, the project meant to optimize Android, programmed their Nexus 4 devices to run like molasses. They forced the screen to run at 960 x 540 pixels instead of 720p, they disabled two of the four cores in the Snapdragon and said two remaining cores run a reduced clock speed, and they told the device to pretend it only had half a gigabyte of RAM.

That’s just the hardware side. On the hardware side, Google has this internal tool called “ProcStats”. Put simply, it watches all the processes running on a device and then gives them a numerical score. The bigger the score, the more of a resource hog said process is. To Google’s surprise, some of their apps were absolutely terrible, though anyone who uses Chrome and the Play Store could have told you that without the need to get a computer science degree.

But circling back to the main point, Android should, in theory, now fly on devices that today we would laugh at, and that’s honestly a good thing. Not everyone can afford a $700 smartphone, nor should someone have to spend $700 to get an amazing Android experience. The Moto G does amazing things at $200, and I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll see a highly capable $99 Android phone come out next year.