Google's KitKat gives Mozilla, Nokia a Halloween scare

Google aims to make the latest version of Android a better fit for cheap smartphones

Google has paid extra attention to Android's performance on low-cost smartphones when developing version 4.4 of the OS, which could be very good news for consumers and developers but a problem for competitors like Mozilla and Nokia.

Most of the growth in the smartphone market is expected to come from the low-cost segment in coming years, and OSes are being developed to better serve this demand.

As part of Android 4.4 -- dubbed KitKat -- Google kicked off "Project Svelte," an effort to reduce the memory needs of Android so it can "run comfortably" on entry-level smartphones that have as little as 512MB RAM. This means the next billion smartphone users will be able to enjoy the very best that Android has to offer, Google said on Thursday.

"The low end is an area where Android is doing well already, but there is no doubt that the experience on some of the very cheapest Android devices is sub-standard. So this is a significant announcement by Google," said Pete Cunningham, principal analyst at Canalys.

"Bringing the memory requirements down is a significant step," said Geoff Blaber , vice president of research for the Americas at CCS Insight. RAM, rather than a smartphone's processor, is the more critical issue when taking the latest OS releases down to lower-end hardware, he added.

Even though Android dominates the low-end, it has benefitted vendors like Nokia and Mozilla that cheaper Android-based smartphones are using older versions of the OS, especially version 2.3 or Gingerbread. Mozilla's nascent Firefox OS was developed with low-cost smartphones in mind and the same goes for Nokia's Asha range. If "Project Svelte" becomes a success, competing with Android will become even more difficult in that segment.

"If Google can genuinely bring KitKat quickly down to address lower price points it would have a huge impact. It would be a boon for Google; it would be a boon for developers; and it would be very good news for consumers," Blaber said.

However, doing this isn't a small task, and the proof will come first when real products arrive, according to Blaber.

Developers will also have to contribute and develop apps that just like the OS are optimized for devices with less RAM. Google is hoping they will use a new API (application programming interface) that lets them tune an app's behavior to match the device's memory configuration. Developers can modify or disable large-memory features as needed, depending on the use cases they want to support on entry-level devices, it said.

The hoped-for payoff for developers is less fragmentation, which would make it easier for them to develop applications that can be installed by more users.

Shipments of sub-$250 smartphones are expected to grow from 259 million in 2013 to 788 million in 2018, according to ABI Research. They will account for 46 percent of overall shipments, compared to 28 percent in 2012, it said.

Nokia and Mozilla didn't reply to questions about the Android 4.4 launch.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags consumer electronicsGooglesmartphonesNokiaMobile OSesAndroidmobileWindows PhonemozillaAndroid OS

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Mikael Ricknäs

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?