Google finished rolling out Play Services 5.0 to its Froyo-and-above Android devices this week and, according to the company, this is the biggest release yet.
For the unfamiliar, Play Services are like software updates for Android phones and tablets that happen behind the scenes; it’s Google’s way of keeping all devices, regardless of OEM, carrier or Android version, in line with its developer expectations.
Play Services 5.0, which was announced during the Google I/O keynote, brings some fairly substantial usability upgrades — all behind the scenes — that most users will soon be able to take advantage of. The foremost addition is support for Android Wear, the first smartwatches of which will begin shipping today, allowing developers to store small amounts of data on the wearable itself.
The other major update to PS5.0 is the addition of Dynamic Security Provider APIs, which should make it a lot easier for Google to patch security issues on older versions of Android without having to wait for OEMs to roll out newer software. Google likely learned its lesson from Heartbleed and wants to ensure that its 1+ billion Android smartphones and tablets are not universally insecure to anything else in the future.
Play Services 5.0 also comes with a swatch of improvements to Play Games, which now allows time-based goals attached to notifications — “Play in the next 20 minutes to earn 300 gold!” — without having to update the games themselves. This could be quite intrusive depending on how earnestly developers take to the new set of tools, but only time will tell on that front. More important to gamers are Saved Games, a new set of APIs that saved game progress, cover images, descriptions and time played information in a single server store. This will help alleviate the issue of players having to start from the beginning again when switching to a new device on the same Google account.
Google has been very deliberate about the upgrades to Play Services 5.0; Cast, Drive, Wallet, Analytics and Mobile Ads have all received updated functionality, making it easier for developers to do more on the Google platform — good or bad.