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Android 4.4 “Kit Kat” and Quality Control

Android recently launched the newest incarnation of their operating system, Android 4.4, nicknamed Kit Kat. This lightweight operating system was released on a very limited...

Android recently launched the newest incarnation of their operating system, Android 4.4, nicknamed Kit Kat. This lightweight operating system was released on a very limited basis, but though it is small, it’s certainly mighty; it was designed to be supported both by current technology as well as to replace the wildly outdated operating systems that persist within the market.

Recent calculations found that Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) is still in use by around 26% of Android users worldwide. While there are many possible reasons for this, many posit that large numbers of these users are in regions where more recent software is difficult to come by, such as developing nations. Current operating systems are huge and require much more heavy-duty hardware due to their size and capacities, which left older devices behind due to their limited capabilities; Kit Kat, on the other hand, was designed to be much smaller, taking up the same amount of RAM as Gingerbread. The application set has been shrunk considerably; phones will come to users with fewer apps pre-installed and instead are available for download optionally, which makes Kit Kat much less cumbersome than previous iterations of the OS. According to TechCrunch, “Google wants to get everyone on the same platform,” and they’ve taken the first step towards that goal with Kit Kat.

This lighter operating system could also be beneficial from a quality control standpoint. Previous iterations which necessitated more pre-installed applications for optimum usability would have taken months to adequately test. Cutting down the amount of necessary apps means cutting out a large amount of the time and effort required for proper testing at release. Making apps that are normally native into optional add-ons helps to keep the size requirements small, while also aiding in carriers’ own initial testing efforts. This could make it easier, faster, and more enticing for carriers to provide the update to their customers – or not. InfoWorld says, “The problem is that KitKat won’t in practice bring most older Android smartphones into the modern Android world, partly for reasons outside Google’s control.” Here’s why: carriers are notorious curmudgeons about updating operating systems, largely because a new OS slashes customers’ likeliness to upgrade their phone at the end of their contract. Google’s own actions don’t help; while Kit Kat’s requirements are comparable to Gingerbread’s, it will only be released for phones less than 18 months old, which kind of negates their claims of making new technology more accessible to those in underprivileged areas.

There’s also the fact that mobile testing for Android is already a huge pain. Aside from the flooded device market, there are so many carriers internationally, and all of them make their own alterations to the stock OS that it can be incredibly hard to assure complete QA compatibility. Not only that, but it also results in no standard API with which to automate, making automated testing basically impossible and mandating a much slower pace for the entire effort. In short, Kit Kat has the potential to convolute this already confusing system even further.

The lightened load not only enables the operating system to work on less powerful phones; it also expedites the initial quality control process, resulting in quicker and more efficient releases for the Google team.

Whether or not Google’s claims that Kit Kat will bring modern technology to developing nations and underprivileged areas are actually true, it still has the potential to make some pretty big waves in the Android market. The lightened load not only enables the operating system to work on less powerful phones; it also expedites the initial quality control process, resulting in quicker and more efficient releases for the Google team. And who knows? Maybe it will also herald the beginning of an operating system renaissance, smaller and lighter than their predecessors, which can finish the testing cycle in a matter of weeks instead of a matter of months and pass some of the testing responsibility onto the provider from the get-go.

This post is part of an ongoing series about quality control, quality assurance, and software testing. More on the topic:

The Internet of Things and Software Testing
Quality Assurance and HealthCare.Gov
Quality Assurance and Big Data