Google Street View is coming to Android. With the release of Google Play Services 4.4, developers can now embed Street View images into applications and animate camera movements. But is this a must-have feature for new apps or just API window dressing?

Let’s Play

The biggest change in the newly released Google Play Services 4.4 is the inclusion of Street View for Android, allowing developers to add 360-degree street-level views to their apps, CNET reports. The Android Developer’s Blog says this update lets users “explore the world” through the search giant’s vast network of pictures; but what does this really mean for users? Consider retail review apps, which could now include a view of a restaurant’s facade or a shop’s window. Navigation apps, meanwhile, can offer added clarity by including Street View images of destinations, making it easier for users to know if they’ve arrived or overshot their mark.

The update also includes a change to the Location API. Currently, the interface allows the Android devices to determine if the user is in a vehicle, on a bicycle, on foot, or standing still; now, developers can further refine movement patterns to include running and walking—great for a fitness or exploration app. Combined with Street View images, these improved Location Services come one step closer to providing users with a real-time reflection of what they’re doing rather than a delayed approximation. There’s a good chance these updates are a precursor to Google’s wearable technology line Android Wear, scheduled to roll out later this year.

Fighting Fragmentation

Google’s balancing act with Play Services has always been to give developers as much control as possible without giving away trade secrets. The process of moving users to KitKat is slow going; as noted by Gigaom, just under two percent of all Android devices run version 4.4. The lion’s share—35.5 percent—run 4.1 Jelly Bean. But second to that? 2.3 Gingerbread, which runs on a solid 20 percent of devices. Rumors say Android OS 5.0 will be available on a far wider range of phones and tablets; in conjunction with automatic updates, this should solve at least some of Google’s fragmentation problems.

Play Services is also doing its part, providing a uniform interface across all versions back to 2.3. Many newer features, however—particularly embedded Street View and the Location API update—won’t work with older devices. From a developer perspective, Google is trying to play both sides of the fence by providing a streamlined interface and better functionality but slowly moving support away from older Android OS versions. The bottom line? Google Street View as a native part of new Android apps means a better experience for users, especially in concert with improved mobility detection. It’s also one step further away from aging Android versions—all the cool new toys are heading to KitKat.

What apps do you think will benefit from embedded Google Street View images?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


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