We’ve written a lot about what’s new in Android L from an end-user’s perspective, and there’s an awful lot. However, there’s a lot of changes behind the scenes as well, and while a lot of them aren’t really very interesting, this one certainly is a breath of fresh air.
Google has unhooked quite a bit from the actual operating system itself, and one of the best examples of this over time has been the Play Services being removed from the core OS, and being moved into an updatable application, meaning faster updates to core Google services without needing an OS update to achieve them.
One of Android’s components that many, many apps make use of is WebView. Simply put, WebView is a component developers can use within their apps to display web content without launching a separate web browser. It’s both useful and powerful when used right (e.g. for an integrated web browser in a Twitter client), but it can be really poor when used badly (e.g. an app that’s nothing more than a WebView to a mobile optimised website)
WebView has been through a few changes recently. With Android 4.4 KitKat, WebView ceased to be based on the WebKit system (which emerged in the earlier days of Apple’s Mac OS X) and moved across to Google’s own Chromium system. A good move, but it still left a lingering issue; updates to WebView required updates to the Android OS itself, meaning that security patches required updates to the entire OS. Seems a bit silly. Google figured this, and has made the change.
WebView is now distributed as a separate system application, which can receive updates through the Play Store without an OS upgrade. Better yet, this process is invisible to the end-user, and WebView updates in the background like updates to the Play Store itself, and like Play Services.
What does this mean for you, the user? It means faster security patches and updates, quicker access to new features, and more stable and reliable web browsing within apps. A small thing, maybe, but a good thing? For sure.
Check out the Android 5.0 Archive