Google Play Services is the new platform

Ron Amadeo for Ars Technica on Google Play Services:

Calling Play Services an “app” doesn’t really tell the whole story. For starters, it has an insane amount of permissions. It’s basically a system-level process, and if the above list isn’t enough for whatever it needs to do next, it can actually give itself more permissions without the user’s consent. Play Services constantly runs in the background of every Android phone, and nearly every Google app relies on it to function. It’s updatable, but it doesn’t update through the Play Store like every other app. It has its own silent, automatic update mechanism that the user has no control over. In fact, most of the time the user never even knows an update has happened. The reason for the complete and absolute power this app has is simple: Google Play Services is Google’s new platform.

Wonder why Android updates aren’t packing in as many features as they used to? Well, wonder no more. It’s all being delivered via Google Play Services, silently, in the background, at any time.

Google tried and failed to get carriers to agree to timely updates for Android. So, decoupling all the main apps from the OS (like Gmail, Maps, Chrome, YouTube, the keyboard & many more) and leveraging Google Play Services is now how they get it done in spite of their slow partners. The majority of the changes to the lower-level APIs are now delivered, updated & controlled by Google at any time.

There’s also this:

If you ever question the power of Google Play Services, try disabling it. Nearly every Google App on your device will break.

This is their strategy for dealing with Android fragmentation; rendering the OS version irrelevant. It’s kind of brilliant, actually.

Brilliant, and scary.