Google has been making smart moves lately breaking down many of Androids features into updates in their core apps. This strategy is a great way of getting new features directly to consumers without having to deal with carriers and manufacturers. With KitKat Android 4.4 they've taken this method a step further. Making an official Google home launcher and heavily integrating the home screen and Google Search/Google Now. The new Google Launcher allows users to easily swipe left from the home screen right into Google Now.
With the release of the factory images for KitKat developers have been able to pull some of core apps that have been updated and provide them for the rest of us to downlaod and install. They seem to work for most Android devices running Jellybean (maybe Ice Cream Sandwhich too, I've only tested JB) and I've been using a few since Friday with minimal issues. They are easy enough to install if you're familiar with sideloading apps (installing via sd/internal storage instead of the market). Be sure to go into settings, security and check "Unknown Sources" (Allow installation of apps from unknown sources) first. Then download any of the following apps. You will also need a file manager app (I use ES File Explorer) to navigate to the download folder on your phone and install the apps.
To get the new home screen and integrated google search features you must download and install the following three apps:
The only issue I've been having here is Google Search occasionally crashing, others seem to be having similar issues and it may vary from phone to phone. This seems to be able to be fixed by changing the language in Google Now/Search voice settings to anything but English (US), I used English (Generic or UK), performing a search (some say reboot here also) and then switching back to English (US). I've just left mine on English (Generic) since the fix doesn't seem to stick on my Galaxy S3 running AOSP 4.2.2. The only drawback I've seen to my method is I seem to have lost the "Ok Google" hot-word voice search feature and now have to push the mic to voice search. No big deal to me. It may have to do with Google's new enhanced hot-word voice search activation, KitKat allows user to utilize the "Ok Google" phrase to launch voice searches from the home screen Moto X style (or any screen on the Nexus 5).
Other new core Google apps can be downloaded below. Of course use with caution. Any apps that don't play well with your phone should be able to be uninstalled or downgraded so that you can return to the current version in the Play Store if necessary. I've primarily just used the new Hangouts app to test the new SMS integration, which so far isn't perfect but is a good start. It's nice being able to do most of my messaging in one app. I just hope they add more functionality to the SMS features. The new keyboard also brings the emjoi's from Hangout into anything that you can type in. Also, grab the new Android 4.4 wallpapers to get the full KitKat aesthetic experience.
- Downloads Google Hangouts APK (v2.0.012)
- Download new Google Now APK (184.108.40.2066092)
- Download Android 4.4 Keyboard APK (v2.0.19003.893803a)
- Download Android 4.4 Camera APK (v2.0.001)
- Download Android 4.4 Wallpapers