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Could Play be Google’s new secret weapon to tackle Android fragmentation?

In three hours of keynote at Google I/O, hardly a mention was made of the nagging issue of platform fragmentation that has plagued Android developers and users alike. The stats on how slowly new versions of the OS roll out on existing phones – if they make it at all – are plentiful and well-documented. Existing attempts to reduce fragmentation have had limited success. In a not-so-subtle move, though, Google unveiled its new gaming platform and services not as part of Android itself, but as an addition to Google Play and its Google Play Framework.

By pushing out its game services as part of Google Play, it will automatically be available to all Android devices running Froyo or later – although with devices like Amazon’s Kindle Fire the user will need to install Play and the Play Framework first.

This clever move completely sidesteps Google’s OEM and partner channel to bring new capabilities directly to Google’s users, and gives developers an instant audience for games and game-related services. This type of rollout is much closer to the immediacy Apple is able to generate by pushing out new versions of iOS overnight than the current Android slog of getting updates out to users.

Google Play game services

While Android has become a major gaming platform, Google has offered limited support for multiplayer gaming. That makes game services an ideal area for it to try to jump-start its effort by getting features out to the market as soon as possible. The newly announced Google Play game services offers a set of four features:

  • Achievements that increase engagement and promote different styles of play.
  • Social and public leaderboards that seamlessly use Google+ circles to track high scores across friends and across the world.
  • Cloud saves that provide a simple and streamlined storage API to store game saves and settings. Now players never have to replay Level 1 again.
  • Real-time multiplayer for easy addition of cooperative or competitive gameplay on Android devices. Using Google+ Circles, a game can have up to 4 simultaneous friends or auto-matched players in a game session together with support for additional players coming soon.

The new game services are already available, with Google announcing that several dozen games were launching with them as of this week.

Addressing app fragmentation with Android Studio

While not directly addressing platform fragmentation, Google’s newly announced, and very sweet looking, Android Studio development tool will help developers create applications that look and run well across a variety of devices and resolutions – and in different languages.

Based on IntelliJ, it offers real-time previews of varied screen layouts and translations. Personally I also love the fact that it shows constants using their defined values in the editor, so you never have to worry if you’re using the right one. An integrated translation service can even provide needed foreign language strings for developers who don’t have access to their own resources.

The big question, in our eyes, is whether Google can also use Play to roll out additional services that it wants to get to market quickly. With this move, Google has shown that it’s willing to circumvent carriers when necessary – but why draw the line at just additional Play APIs? In theory, Google should be able to update almost every part of your Android phone from the Play Store, except for low-level kernel tweaks and drivers.