For years, Google laughed off the notion of "fragmentation," at least in public. It turned a blind eye to those awful statistics, which proved that a huge, huge chunk of Android users were still using a version of the operating system that was -- in technology terms -- just plain ancient. But recently, Android development has slowed somewhat. It feels as if we've been stuck on Android 4.x.x for an eternity, and evidently, that's by design. Instead of revamping Android as a whole, Google has turned to something else: an app.
The reality is that most OEM partners have very time consuming Q/A processes, and if Google pushes a new Android build every other month, many phones simply never get the update; even popular phones can take months for an update to be approved. So, to circumvent that, and ensure that more Android users are on a level playing field in the future, it has turned to Google Play Services. It's a relatively unassuming app, but it's becoming hugely important.
It can be installed on nearly any Android device, and it effectively allows Google to update its core suite of apps and send updated via Google Play Services. Instead of requiring a new Android OS build, it just works its magic through this framework. It's way more than an app, and once you dig deep, you realize just how much power this one app has over the core system.
It's a pretty bold move, and an idea that we support. If OEMs are holding up the innovation process, this seems like a sensible workaround.