Defragmenting Android

5 Sep

There are several reasons why I have backed away from Android devices, security and the business practices of Google themselves being two that were right up there. 

Another was the way devices would not get official updates less than two years after release (all the more reason why a lack of an update from Windows Phone 7.x to 8 stung so much) without resorting to custom builds, which for the most part I’m not interested in getting involved with. 

This lack of updates resulted in fragmentation of the Android platform, where new features introduced with OS updates could not be relied upon since so much existing hardware was unable to run the required update. This made it a little harder for developers to know exactly what APIs they could rely on being present, resulting in a lowest common denominator approach for many applications. Unfortunate, frustrating, probably not the end of the world though. 

Yesterday however, I read an interesting article on Ars Technica which reveals how Google are silently addressing this issue, and frankly I’m impressed. 

Essentially, each new update of Android has a bunch of additional functionality, but nothing show stopping. However, a little app known as Google Play Services can now run in the background on Android versions from 2.2, and it is this that contains most of the new APIs and other updates. This is how redesigns of things like the play store and the new game save system can be implemented on older devices. Essentially Google Play Services is, to my mind at least, a new Android core. Certainly it’s a new service that many (if not all) the Google Apps, and others from third parties, rely on. 

But here’s the killer win: Being an app itself, Google Play Services can be updated like any other app. Actually, that’s not strictly true, it runs silent updates and has super privileged access rights in order to do what it needs. 

In this way it allows Google to update the Android platform without the need to wait for device manufacturers to make their changes on top, or wait for approval from carriers. 

Simple and genius. 

I only hope Microsoft does something similar with Windows Phone, although now they own the Nokia devices division, I doubt they will have it as much of a priority. 

So on this occasion I doff my hat to Google. 

Well played sirs. 

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