Google, continuing in the spirit of surreptitious, over-the-air core app updates in lieu of new Android firmware, completed its global rollout of Google Play Services 3.2 today. The upgrade, which is compatible with devices running Android 2.3 and above, brings new user-facing features and enhancements to a number of Google services. In addition, the updated Google Play Services includes to a more robust location and Maps APIs, and a smoother, cleaner Google Wallet InstantBuy implementation.
Android Device Manager
A major aspect of the new Google Play Services is Android Device Manager (ADM), a tool that allows users to locate and “ring” any Android device attached to their Google account. Remote locking and data wiping functionality are also in tow, though both features require ADM be granted device administrator privileges. The management screen is accessible via the Google Play web interface.
Photo Sphere just got a lot cooler. Android 4.2 Jelly Bean users and above can now explore saved Photo Spheres in “compass mode.” Identical to Google’s Street View implementation, the new view uses smartphone/tablet gyroscopes and accelerators to navigate Photo Spheres in a three-dimensional space. It’s super slick.
Improved Google+ Sign-in
Remember when Google introduced Google+ sign-in for Android a while ago? Neither do most people, and, in my experience, you’d be hard-pressed to find an app that actually uses it. Nonetheless, Google’s committed to the Google+ ecosystem, and so has iteratively improved the sign-in process in Google Play Services 3.2. Specifically, Google+ sign-in can now be embedded directly within apps, content sharing through Google+ has been simplified, and all animations have been improved. Whether those changes will be enough to spur developer adoption of Google+ integration remains to be seen, but Google’s certainly trying to make a compelling case.
New APIs incoming! Google Play Services 3.2 introduces really useful location hooks that have the potential to improve, among other things, battery life. A new Fused Location Provider supports the selection of a low-power mode option, which should lessen the impact of apps like Maps on battery. For the admittedly few devices that support it, new APIs for hardware-based GPS geofencing are also present, meaning those location-based Tasker profiles shouldn’t drain power like crazy anymore.
Bitmap fans, rejoice: the Maps API now has a Snapshot feature that can (1) capture a bitmap image of map segment, (2) replace an interactive map not in use with it. That should improve performance in applications that rely on Maps for data.
Though Google’s proprietary Wallet has languished as of late, the company hasn’t completely given up on its ill-conceived payment platform. The new Google Play Services brings welcome enhancements to InstantBuy, an API revealed in May targeted at merchants and developers selling physical goods. InstantBuy’s latency has been improved, and UI redesigned with holo in mind. Loyalty and offers information is apparently easier to solicit now, as well.
Seems like Google’s finally found a way around the Android fragmentation problem: silent core updates. It’s a welcome strategy, especially for those stuck with older devices, and almost certainly poised to become an integral part of Google’s Android upgrade roadmap going forward.
So, have you received the new Google Play Services? How is it? Let us know in the comments.