GOOGLE HAS just had its first app hit 5 billion downloads on the Play Store. So what is it? Angry Birds? Nope. Candy Crush? Nope. Google Play Music? Arf. No.
It's actually an app that no one has ever downloaded. It doesn't appear in your app list. You can't open it. You can't delete it. You can uninstall it, but then nothing else works. It's Google Play Services.
Google Play Services (GPS) was launched in 2012 to coincide with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, as a way of bringing together lots of runtime libraries and APIs in a way that meant that they could be centralised, safely monitored and updated, all without having to mess around with the OS or Kernel, or wait for the OEM to do anything.
As soon as you download anything from the Play Store that needs it, it will silently download and will keep on updating itself in the background. In fact, no Google apps will work without it. Many third party apps do, which is why Amazon is able to operate its own App Store.
But in real terms, for every Google Docs, Google Play Music or Google Calendar download, at some point there's been a Google Play Services. In fact - the Google Play Store won't work unless Play Services is up to date. And every time it has been updated (last time was 11 July) then it's silently downloaded again.
Recently, a new type of malware, Lipizzan, has targetted Google Play Services apps by mimicking legitimate features. Google Play Protect (which existed already but now has a name) has now flagged up these apps and they have been removed but it has highlighted that Google Play Services isn't a 100 per cent guarantee of safety - though it's significantly safer than using a third party app store.
As for whether Google's infrastructure slows things down? Well, Amazon's Fire tablets are definitely fast, but hacking on Google Play Services and all the razzle dazzle that goes with it doesn't seem to make a difference, so it doesn't seem to be that. µ
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