New Google Play Services 5.0 rolls out, updating Androids without a new version of Android

Ellie Powers. Photo by Janko Roettgers/Gigaom

You probably won’t notice it but if you have an Android phone, it should be getting a behind-the-scenes software update soon. I’m not talking about Android L, which Google just announced last week though. Google Play Services 5.0 is now rolling out worldwide, according to the Google Developer Blog.

On Wednesday, Google published a post explaining what’s in Google Play Services 5.0 so that developers can start updating their apps with new features. Here’s the top-level, short description of what’s new:

“This release introduces Android wearable services APIs, Dynamic Security Provider and App Indexing, whilst also including updates to the Google Play game services, Cast, Drive, Wallet, Analytics, and Mobile Ads.”

By updating Google Play Services, Google is effectively adding new features to all Android phones and tablets, regardless of the version of Android they run. The company started taking this approach at last year’s Google I/O, rolling out a ton of new Android functions without actually pushing a full new version of Android. This approach allows a wider range of Android devices — all of them running Android 2.3 or better — to get the newest features and turns the “how many Android phones actually run the latest OS version” argument into a bit of a moot point.

Photo by Janko Roettgers/Gigaom

Photo by Janko Roettgers/Gigaom

Clearly, the wearable services API is important now because pre-orders for the new Android Wear smartwatches start shipping next week. App indexing is part of the deep app linking strategy we’ve covered prior: Web search results can include links to open relevant apps automatically. Google Play games gain┬áthe Quests and Saved Games support announced last week at Google I/O while Google Wallet will be able to save offers and supports geo-fenced in-store notifications. That’s just a taste of what’s inside: Google explains all of the new features in a short video:

Obviously, it’s up to developers to take advantage of the new Google Play Services 5.0 and this doesn’t quite take the place of everything coming in Android L. But it’s a step towards upgrading a mass amount of Android devices without needing to wait for handset makers or carriers to approve a software update.

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