Google Updating Android Apps En Masse Ahead of KitKat

Android users will find plenty of updates on their handsets ready to be installed today. As Google prepares to launch the Android 4.4 KitKat version of the mobile operating system, numerous members of the core apps are receiving new features.

Here’s a look at the most notable updates of the last couple of days.

  • YouTube – The new version of this app pushes notifications of new videos that match your interests directly to your device. It also is making ads more visible by adding them to the top of your “Watch Now” list when you open the app.
  • Gmail – This larger update brings Google’s now-widely adopted “card style” design to the Gmail app. This should make it easier to follow complex email threads and conversations, particularly ones with multiple participants.
  • Hangouts – This key update to Hangouts finally lets you know who’s, well, hanging out. The old version of the app didn’t let you know whether a potential message recipient was online or not. Now, offline friends have their status icons greyed out.
  • Google Voice – The update now warns users if they attempt to text 911, and fixes a few bugs.

Google’s been on a tear as it finalizes its new operating system, which is in the final stages of being prepared to ship in the next few days. The release is affectionately known as KitKat, a continuation of the sweets-and-desserts naming system that Google has used since version 1.5 of the mobile operating system.

KitKat is the first new codename for Android since the Jelly Bean, which has stuck with the OS for more than a year, from version 4.1 to the current 4.3. Google hasn’t formally announced the release date for KitKat or the upgrades it will include, but one thing’s for sure: It’s on the way, and soon. How do we know? Because Google has entered into a partnership with Nestle to market the update in conjunction with specially marked KitKat candy bars, including a Wonka-esque golden ticket promotion: crack open a package with the Android logo on the front and you could win a Google Play store credit.

As always, device manufacturers will be free to choose whether to allow the OS update to be installed on individual phones and tablets. Google says that Android 4.4 (KitKat) will be qualified to run on the majority of devices that are currently on the market, although we don’t yet have specifics on which versions will be capable of upgrading. Some Android devices, even extremely popular ones like Samsung’s Qualcomm Snapdragon-powered Galaxy S4, currently run on Android 4.2.2 OS instead of the latest version, Android 4.3

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