Google has recently announced the KitKat version of Android, otherwise called Android 4.4. They haven’t said much other than that in their commercials, but since they announced it now, it’s safe to assume it will be launched in a few weeks. Even the phone that will come out with it, the Nexus 5, has been leaked in all sorts of pictures.
Something that I hope gets answered as soon as we see it, is whether Android 4.4 will help improve the fragmentation problem (the upgrade problem) or make it worse. Last year, Google released the PDK for manufacturers, which can help OEM’s shave off a few weeks from the development time, but in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t make much of a difference, at least not for OEM’s that have heavy custom skins. So far we’ve seen that new versions of stock Android can arrive very quickly to the Play Edition devices. So having more OEM’s go that route would definitely help, but most still seem very reluctant to do it.
In regards to Android 4.4, if it will indeed come with a newer Linux kernel, it should have support for something called device-tree. With that, OEM’s can basically have a “master ROM” that they can use for at least all of their devices, even if they have different SoC’s in them. It doesn’t mean yet that we’ll get one master ROM for all Android devices, at least not yet, but it would still be a huge improvement.
If OEM’s can use just one ROM, with slight tweaks, for all of their devices, that would make upgrades so much easier and so much faster for them. But don’t expect this to happen immediately. We’ll probably see this happen with devices that come with Android KitKat from day one, as they will be the ones using the “master ROM”.
In the short to medium term, it’s possible KitKat will make the fragmentation a little worse, since we’ve just received the Android 4.3 version, and soon 4.4 is coming out, too. Plus, if they are going to make these master ROM’s, they probably won’t be very compatible with the previous ROMs, so they will have to start from scratch with the new devices, more or less, maybe in the same way they did with Android 4+ ROM’s when they replaced the pre-Android 4 ROMs.
Ultimately, if Google delivers on this, and the OEM’s take advantage of it the right way, KitKat could lead to more upgrades arriving on more devices (even at the low-end), and much more quickly, too.