Google Play services has been updated to version 4.4 and it’s now rolling out to just about every Android device worldwide. While updates to Play services are usually of more interest to developers than end users, it’s important to at least have a passing understanding of what’s in there, because chances are the new features will make their way to app updates in the weeks and months to come.
For those unaware, Google uses Play services as a part of the core Android experience; many things that you might find in an OS-level API on other platforms are actually not part of the operating system in Android. Rather, they’re in a separate service, updatable over the air without needing an OTA process or carrier/vendor approval, which means that updates that might once have been part of a full-blown OS update can now be done by Google updating an APK on the Play Store, and users receiving the update perhaps without even realising.
So, what’s new in version 4.4?
First up are some changes to the Google Maps Android API, which allow app developers to embed Street View imagery in their apps without any trickery; it’s supposedly fairly easy now! There’s also more features for the Indoor Maps API, allowing developers to build custom mapping solutions for their own building mapping services.
We’ve also seen updates to Android’s ability to recognise activities, and for apps to tap into this lower-level recognition. From this update, app developers will be able to detect whether an Android device is in a car, on a bike, on foot, or tilting, and in new additions, running or walking. Developers don’t need to concern themselves with how Android / Play services detects these activities, they can just make a simple call to determine what the device is doing and act accordingly.
There are also some more minor changes which probably won’t be too visible to end-users at this point, but will become so over time:
- Game Services updates to allow gamers to request gifts or wishes from other players. There are no API changes, but developers will be able to take advantage of the new features quite easily.
- Mobile Ads API has been changed to allow publishers to display in-app promos, allowing users to buy products straight from the ad. App developers can also more finely tune their ads to display more relevant (and targeted) ads to certain groups of users.
- Wallet Fragments have been added, making it even easier for developers to include a ‘Buy Now with Google Wallet’ feature to their apps.
With Google IO just around the corner as well, chances are we’ll see some more updates in a month or so, but these minor ones just go to show that Google is continuing to offer new features to developers to make the best apps they can.