Android 4.4 KitKat lets you say 'OK Google' to activate touchless search

"Okay Google." Those Touchless Controls aren't just for the Moto X anymore -- they're now part and parcel of the Nexus 5. With today's unveiling of Google's (terribly leaked) Nexus 5, we're getting a first look at Android 4.4 KitKat on the handset, and that OS update comes with some significant tweaks to Search and Now. For starters, Nexus 5 users will have the ability to set hot keywords as a means of activating or "waking up" Now voice search. So, presumably, this means you'll be able to link any word you'd like to start barking voice commands at Now. Just don't be surprised if Now talks back to you: KitKat also apparently allows for a dialogue of sorts between users and the handset to refine search queries. This could be especially useful when directing Now to access contacts by first name. For example, saying "Text Jennifer" could result in it asking you to specify, "Which Jennifer?" It's smart control made smarter.

But that's just the tip of the improvements Google's made to its Now and Search product. Overall, speech recognition is said to have been made 25% more accurate and manual access to Now can be triggered by a swipe to the left (Nexus 5-only, for now) -- no longer a swipe from the bottom of the screen up. Now has also been outfitted with a wider array of "contextual cards." It's yet another step in making Google's digital assistant even more prescient, as it will now display information based on a user's current activity, like Fandango for ticket listings if you're at a theatre, or even updates on a favorite TV show you've searched for previously. And going even further, Google Now will also provide "deep links" to applications you've installed on the handset. In the use case Google provided, this means that a recipe search won't just display link results, but will also ping up the AllRecipes app or even OpenTable, if you're on the hunt for a restaurant. Though all of these Search tweaks are bundled into the Nexus 5 for now, they should soon rollout to other Nexus devices as Android 4.4 KitKat is made more widely available.

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Android for all and the new Nexus 5

Just in time for Halloween, we have two new treats for Android fans. First, we're excited to unwrap our latest platform release, KitKat, which delivers a smarter, more immersive Android experience to even more people. And second, we're introducing Nexus 5-a new Nexus phone developed with LG.

The first thing you'll notice about KitKat is we've made the experience much more engaging: the book you're reading, the game you're playing, or the movie you're watching-now all of these take center stage with the new immersive mode, which automatically hides everything except what you really want to see.

Bringing more Google smarts to Android

Behind the polish on the screen is the power under the hood. Take the Phone app, which for most people hasn't really changed since the days of flip phones. Now, we're making calling easier than ever, by helping you search across your contacts, nearby places, or even Google Apps accounts (like your company's directory), directly from within the app. And with the new Hangouts app, all of your SMS and MMS messages are together in the same place, alongside your other conversations and video calls, so you'll never miss a message no matter how your friends send it. This is just a small taste of KitKat-learn more on our site.

Google has always focused on helping users get immediate access to the information they need, and we want to bring this same convenience and power to users on Android. With the new Nexus 5 launcher, Google smarts are deeply integrated into the phone you carry around with you, so getting to the information you need is simple, easy and fast. Swipe once from the home screen to get Google Now literally at your fingertips. Put Google to work for you by saying "OK, Google" to launch voice search, send a text, get directions or even play a song you want to hear. And in the coming weeks, we're enhancing Now with important new card types that bring you information about contextual topics that interest you such as updates from a favorite website or blog.

Reaching the next 1 billion users

Building a platform that makes mobile phones accessible for everyone has always been at the heart of Android. Until now, some lower-end Android phones couldn't benefit from more recent Android releases due to memory constraints. With KitKat, we've slimmed down Android's memory footprint by doing things like removing unnecessary background services and reducing the memory consumption of features that you use all the time. We did this not only within Android but across Google services like Chrome and YouTube. RAM (or memory) is one of the most expensive parts of a phone, and now Android can run comfortably on the 512MB of RAM devices that are popular in much of the world, bringing the latest goodies in Android 4.4 within reach for the next billion smartphone users.

Introducing Nexus 5

Along with our sweet naming tradition, we also introduce a new device with each platform release to showcase the latest Android innovations. For KitKat, we partnered with LG to develop Nexus 5 -- the slimmest and fastest Nexus phone ever made. Its design is simple and refined to showcase the 5" Full HD display. Nexus 5 also keeps you connected at blazing speeds with 4G/LTE and ultra fast wifi. The advanced new lens on Nexus 5 captures more light for brighter night and sharper action shots. And with optical image stabilization, you no longer have to worry about shaky hands and blurry pictures. A new HDR+ mode automatically snaps a rapid burst of photos and combines them to give you the best possible single shot. Learn more on our site.

Nexus 5 is available today, unlocked and without a contract, on Google Play in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Japan and Korea (and coming soon to India), starting at $349. Just in the time for the holidays, Nexus 5 will be available soon at the following retailers: Sprint, T-Mobile, Amazon, Best Buy and RadioShack.

Android 4.4, KitKat, which comes on Nexus 5, will also soon be available on Nexus 4, 7, 10, the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One Google Play edition devices in the coming weeks.

How's that for a treat?