Everything you need to know about Android 4.4 KitKat

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KitKat's new dialer makes phone books even more useless

Our smartphones are capable of doing so many amazing things that it’s easy to forget that they are also phones. To that end, the phone dialer apps in our devices haven’t evolved much in the last five years, as people have slowly moved towards texting as their primary mode of communication. Android 4.4 KitKat makes the dialer exciting again by adding a feature that should have been in smartphones from day 1: It tells you who exactly is calling, even if they're not in your contacts.

Built-in caller ID

The new dialer app will show you a photo and tell you which business is calling.

Home caller ID systems have been around for roughly two decades now, but smartphones have been slow to adopt the same technology. Some carriers, like Verizon, have apps that show you who is calling and where the call is coming from but you usually have to pay extra for the service.

The dialer app in Android KitKat effectively makes such services obsolete, as it uses Google Maps and Google Plus to let you know who is trying to reach you. If, for whatever reason, your local Starbucks is giving you a ring, Google will cross reference the number with local businesses and give you a heads up that the coffee shop is calling.

The feature isn’t foolproof—it seems to work better with businesses that have Google+ profiles, as well as up-to-date information on Google Maps—so there will still be times where you’ll have no idea who’s on the other end.

A few drawbacks

Right now the feature only works with businesses, but Google plans to expand the functionality to include individuals with Google+ accounts who have a phone number listed. Getting a call from someone would display their Google+ profile photo, which means you might want to change your profile picture to something a little more professional if you use your number to call a lot of people for work. You can opt out of this functionality now by following this link and unchecking the phone numbers you have listed.

The Jelly Bean dialer (left) and the KitKat dialer (right).

If you’re the one making the call, the dialer app lets you search for nearby places and will recommend results based on your location. The KitKat dialer app will also prioritize contacts based on how often you talk to them.

The success of this new dialer app will be predicated on more people adopting Google+, and the search giant keeping its business listings up-to-date. Maybe it’s time Google considered buying the YellowPages—if only to prevent the company from going completely extinct.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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