At a time when version updates are becoming less of an issue and major phone makers are finally beginning to guarantee years of updates, Google might have found a way to end Android fragmentation once and for all: by turning it into a service.
The signs are there. On February 11, Google announced that several “Pixel-first” features in Google Photos (go.pcworld.com/ px1s)—Portrait Blur, Portrait Light, and Color Pop—won’t actually be coming to all Android phones as expected. Instead, Google is offering them as a benefit to Google One subscribers, effectively putting them behind a paywall along with what Google calls “other new machine learning-powered effects.”
Granted, these aren’t huge features, and most people probably won’t even care whether they have them. Google Photos is a few steps removed from Android. But Google’s decision to put them behind a paywall suggests a shift in how the company will treat future updates to Android apps and the Android system.
THE PIXEL AS A PLATFORM
Google’s own Pixel phone appears to be turning into a service. Ever since its release in 2016, the house brand has been a showcase for the latest software and hardware advancements from Google. It started with the Pixel Launcher and Google Search Bar widget, and it’s continued through the more recent Pixel Feature Drops, which bring new system and app features to Google’s own phone before they reach other vendors’ phones.
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