May 27, 2013
Google is well-known for having issues getting software updates out to users. Look at all the devices still on Gingerbread, after all. But what Google recently did at I/O was a big step forward for them: they’re making Android version updates a much smaller issue than they ever were thanks to shifting important feature usage through app updates and common SDKs, not through Android version updates.
Contrast this strategy with what Apple does: big new features are part of mandatory software udpates. This was a problem when Game Center launched, because for users to log in and use the social gaming service, it required iOS 4.1, which released in the days when users had to connect to iTunes to install iOS updates, and it came to the iPad even later in version 4.2. As such, it had a slower buildup, not becoming a universal feature for games until about a year later.
Google Play Game Services may take a while to take off, sure, but it has the advantage of not requiring an Android system update to use. This way, anyone with a compatible device (Gingerbread and later) can take advantage of it. Developers can integrate the SDK without worrying about excluding users. And thanks to the fact that third-party services never really got a great foothold – even OpenFeint never reached critical mass the way it did on iOS – there’s little reason for it to not be adopted by anyone releasing on Google Play.
That they’re also pushing updates for Google Talk as Hangouts and Google Music All Access. That they’re pushing new features as app updates is important – they’re showing that they are recognizant of the Android landscape: providing features needs to be done in light of the fact that not everyone is on equal footing.
Of course, what Google really needs to be able to do from here on out is to be able to push important security updates quickly to users. That’s the biggest issue now for users on earlier versions – many are on OS versions still susceptible to malware, which often goes un-fixed due to the fact that manufacturers and the carriers are unwilling to get updates out in a timely fashion. If Google can make it so that they can get a quick patching system in place, either through partnerships with the manufacturers and carriers, or even through software, they can make the issue of software updates almost a non-issue.