Google Updates Gmail for Android OS, Fights to Unify Mobile Experience
By Daniel Ionescu
Google updated its Gmail mobile e-mail client for the Android operating system decoupling it from a smartphone’s core functions. The move by Google to independently offer a version of its Gmail software is a big step by the company to wrestle back control from carriers how core functions of the Android OS look and perform.
Most owners of Android-based phones rely on a version of Gmail baked into the phone’s OS provided from a wireless carrier. Users rely on the carrier to manage and update that version of Gmail. Now Google has freed Gmail from carriers, meaning Android users will get individual updates straight from Google, bypassing the carrier. This gives both Google and end users more control over managing and updating the Gmail e-mail client on their Android-based phone. .
The new Gmail app features improvements such as sticky message actions, (limited) support for the Priority Inbox feature, simpler message replies, and easier-to-follow conversation threading. The biggest improvement however, is that the app is standalone, and not tied to the core of the Android OS.
There is caveat though to Google’s move to detach Gmail, and soon other apps from the core Android OS, and that’s because this applies only to current users of version 2.2 Froyo. If your phone is not due to receive the update, then you will be left behind.
De-Fragging the Android OS
Google strategy with Gmail underscores a big step by the company to end the fragmentation problem plaguing the Android OS. Many carriers choose to deploy the Android OS in various ways creating an non uniformed experience. For example, core Android OS functions of a phone may look different on the Motorola Droid X offered by Verizon compared to the Samsung Galaxy S offered by Sprint.
According to Google, over 70 percent of Android users are running outdated versions of the Android OS, and only 30 percent are running version 2.2. That’s because most users are at the mercy of wireless carriers and phone manufacturers for their software updates, which are painstakingly slow, and take months to filter down to end users.
Un-tethering Google’s Android Ambitions
Now, the rumors from the May time period, that Google plans to fix the fragmentation problem have come to fruition. The company has untied the Gmail app from the core of the Android OS, making it available in the Android Market as a downloadable upgrade. Google Maps is another example of a core OS app that has been previously detached from the OS, as well as Voice Search, and Google Search. What’s next? The list could include Contacts, Gallery, or the built-in Internet browser.