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Android 4.4 KitKat: What's the point of co-branding?

Google doesn't need the money, and it certainly has no problem with awareness. So why partner with a candy company at all?

Google and Nestle announce the next version of Android with 4.4 KitKat.

Sorry fanboys and girls, you're not getting Key Lime Pie after all.

In a surprise twist, Google announced that the next version of Google's operating system will be named KitKat in honor of the Hershey's (or Nestle) chocolate bar, instead of Key Lime Pie, which previous code numbers and images had led us to believe.

If a software company co-branding with a confectionery brand feels unprecedented, you'd be correct. Google tends to stick with generic names for its dessert-themed releases. The closest we've come to seeing another brand work with Android came in 2010 with the 2.2 Froyo release. Feeling more like a friendly gesture than a legal arrangement, nationwide frozen yogurt chain TCBY congratulated Google.

As with TCBY's own push, Google isn't making money off this candy exchange, and it isn't spending any, either. After growing Android to be the No. 1 mobile operating system (with a billion Android activations to date), the software has no problem gaining awareness about its OS services.

The thing that many people are wondering, myself included, is: what's the point in co-branding at all?

Analyst Charles Golvin of Forrester Research tells CNET that pairing the lovable Android mascot with an iconic candy bar will get buyers saying, "I not only love Android, but I want the latest and greatest." Stirring up excitement is usually a good thing, but it could also lead to frustration, because it points out problems with Android fragmentation when not everyone will be able to get Android 4.4 right away.

However, Golvin sees the co-branding as a "clever move" that makes Android even more of a household name.

Meet-cute backstory
Don't blame the Android team for the switcheroo; most of them didn't see it coming. Until today, many of the Android staff were operating under the assumption that Key Lime Pie would be the name for the 4.4 build. In fact, Google's partners have been told that the next version of Android was going to be named for the dessert.

The Nestle tie-in is unusual to be sure, but it also came about on a whim. John Lagerling, director of Android global partnerships, told the BBC that the partnership has been in the works for quite some time, dating back to late last year. A "cold call" to Nestle UK's ad agency snowballed into a conference call the next day and an agreement within 24 hours.

The formal deal was finalized in February at Mobile World Congress and Nestle began secretly working on chocolate bars featuring the iconic Android mascot. As Lagerling saw it, more people are familiar with the taste of KitKat than that of Key Lime pie, a dessert popularized in the US. The "fun an unexpected" partnership will see Nestle and Google giving away 1,000 free Nexus 7 tablets and Google Play credits starting September 6.

Nestle is producing more than 50 million KitKats with the Android mascot. Nestle

A co-branding precedent?
If Google and Android achieve success turning Android KitKat into a lifestyle product, could this mean that Google will buddy up with another brand for the "L" release of Android, or is this simply a one-off deal? Could we be pouring out a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal with Android marshmallows in 2014?

Looking back at the previous names of Android releases, it's quite fun to imagine the other possibilities that might have emerged. Hostess (1.5 Cupcake), Dunkin Donuts (1.6 Donut), and Post Holdings (Honeycomb 3.0) all come to mind as brands that could have done something similar.

What do you think of the Android and KitKat partnership -- is it a good idea, or has Google made a mistake in commercializing Android?

What will KitKat bring?
With Android KitKat, Google says its goal is "to make an amazing Android experience available for everybody." While that is certainly more than a tad bit vague, the statement does dovetail with rumors that Google is looking to move beyond the smartphone and tablet market into smartwatches and gaming consoles.

It's also possible that Google might be alluding to even lower prices for handsets and tablets in this message of availability-for-all. We'll have to wait until closer to the Android 4.4 launch to learn more, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a new Nexus smartphone with an attractive price point.

More importantly, I am curious about what Android 4.4 KitKat is and what it means to the mobile space. What sort of features will we see in the update and how do end users benefit? Why so quickly after the introduction of 4.3 Jelly Bean? Sit tight, the next few weeks could prove to be quite fun.