Google, Nestle ink surprise deal for Android 4.4 KitKat

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Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is nicknaming version 4.4 of its Android mobile operating system "KitKat" in honor of the popular Nestle chocolate bar, surprising onlookers who expected the company to call the update Android 5.0, a.k.a. "Key Lime Pie."

Sundar Pichai, Google's senior vice president of Android, Chrome and Apps, confirmed the branding move in a Google+ blog post Tuesday, posting a photo of an Android statue built from oversized KitKat bars displayed on the company's Mountain View, Calif. campus. "Can't wait to release the next version of the platform that is as sweet as the candy bar that's one of our team's favorites," Pichai writes, noting that Google has now passed 1 billion Android device activations worldwide.

Google has consistently named Android OS versions after desserts, following an alphabetical pattern that includes the recent Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and Android 4.1, 4.2 and 4.3, known collectively as Jelly Bean. John Lagerling, director of Android global partnerships, told BBC News that Google staffers originally referred to Android 4.4 as Key Lime Pie in internal discussions.

"We realized that very few people actually know the taste of a key lime pie," Lagerling explained. "One of the snacks that we keep in our kitchen for late-night coding are KitKats. And someone said: 'Hey, why don't we call the release KitKat?' We didn't even know which company controlled the name, and we thought that [a branding partnership] would be difficult. But then we thought well why not, and we decided to reach out to the Nestle folks."

Twenty-four hours after Lagerling met with Nestle executives on a conference call, the Swiss firm agreed to the collaboration, and will ship more than 50 million KitKat bars featuring the Android mascot to 19 international markets including the U.S., U.K., Brazil, India, Japan and Russia. "This is not a money-changing-hands kind of deal," Lagerling said, adding the idea was to do something "fun and unexpected."

A branding expert warned against the potential pitfalls of such a deal. "If your brand is hooked up with another, you inevitably become associated with that other brand, for good or ill," said Simon Myers, a partner at consultancy Prophet. "If that brand or business has some reputational issues that emerge, it would be naïve to think as a brand owner that your good name--your brand equity--would not be affected."

Google has divulged almost nothing else about Android 4.4, including its release date. Insiders have told The Wall Street Journal that Google is currently wrapping up work the update, expected to roll out this fall: Android 4.4 is expected to push the software platform into laptops, wearables and appliances, with Google also giving manufacturing partners greater flexibility to customize the OS for use in devices beyond smartphones and tablets. Sources add that Google is additionally tweaking the OS to run more efficiently across low-cost Android smartphones targeting the emerging markets segment.

Android continues to dominate the smartphone landscape with second-quarter 2013 sales of 178 million units, up from 98.6 million a year ago and translating to 79 percent worldwide market share, according to recent Gartner data. Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS is a distant second at 14.2 percent.

For more:
- read Pichai's Google+ post
- read this BBC News article

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