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New Android phones must run KitKat: report

gadgets Updated: Feb 18, 2014 10:59 IST

A leaked document purportedly from Google states that the company will no longer approve new devices unless they're running the latest version of the Android operating system out of the box.

If the memo is real, then this is excellent news for consumers as it means that whether their next smartphone purchase is entry-level or premium, if it is a brand new device, it will have a brand new operating system too.

Because Google's Android operating system is open source and because companies that use it are allowed to lay their own skin on top of it as well as their own apps, different handsets offer very different user experiences.

The fact that it's open source also means that Google can't systematically delete an older version of the operating system so a host of new devices hit the shelves every year with versions of Android that can be as much as four years old. Manufacturers use older versions so that they can build phones with cheaper, less powerful hardware.

However, if millions of phones and tablets are running a host of different versions of Android, it is difficult for Google to offer new features and services to users and for consumers to get the most out of the latest apps that land on the Google Play Store and which are usually optimized for the latest version of the operating system. All problems that anyone in Apple's mobile device ecosystem has never encountered.

The leaked memo to a major Android device manufacturer, published by MobileBloom, says: "Starting February 2014, Google will no longer approve GMS distribution on new Android products that ship older platform releases. Each platform release will have a "GMS approval window" that typically closes nine months after the next Android platform release is publicly available."

By GMS distribution Google is referring to access to its cloud services and to the Google Play Store. Device makers will still be able to use older versions of Android on their new handsets, but they will no longer be able to access Google's official app store or services such as Google Now, Google Docs or the Chrome browser.

Giving the report some validity is the announcement Monday from LG of a new line of mid- and entry-level handsets, the L series, all of which will be launching officially later in February and will come out of the box with the latest version of Android, 4.4 KitKat.