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Google Play Services: the heartbeat of your Android smartphone

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Often it seems that problems on Android are related to Google Play Services, but what is it exactly? Why is it there? Here we walk you through what it is, what it’s used for and why it’s indispensable.

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Google Play Services: what is it?

Google Play Services is not an app in the way most people think of apps. When you attempt to open it, nothing will happen. However, it is installed by default on all Android devices. It also sees regular updates, and the number of permissions it requires is impressive. Everything goes: access to and control over SMS, access to sensitive log data, access to all the information from Google apps; the list goes on.

In short, Google Play Services is an app that is very closely linked to the Android system itself.

It’s a package of APIs (things that assist programmers and allow apps to easily communicate with other apps) that ensure fewer apps are dependent upon Android OS updates to run.

Google Play Services remains mysterious to many Android users / © AndroidPIT

What does Google Play Services do?

In fact, Google Play Services represents a minor smartphone revolution. Take the example of Google Maps: before Google Play Services, this app was updated when the Android OS was updated. We all know how slow carriers and manufacturers can be when it comes to rolling out updates. Today, there’s no more waiting for updates to Google Maps: they are done automatically through Google Play Services.

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Google apps, like Chrome, are updated through Google Play Services / © AndroidPIT

Google Play Services thus allows your smartphone to benefit from the latest versions of apps without upgrading to the latest version of Android. This does not include all apps, however; it’s mostly for Google’s home-brewed apps (Gmail, Google+, Google Play, etc.). However, apps using Google’s services, of which there are many, may also be affected.

In essence, it means that any version of Android, from Android 2.2 up, can benefit from new apps and features, independent of updates to the OS. It’s essentially a way of fencing in fragmentation and ensuring that as many users as possible can continue to enjoy Android.

It is a change in the operating system that came with Android 4.3 but has continued to grow gradually with new Android updates, particularly with the arrival of Lollipop and Marshmallow. Nowadays, with Android 9.0 Pie widely available, Google Play services has become an absolutely essential part of the Android ecosystem.

Can I disable it?

While it was possible to disable Google Play Services in the past, nowadays it’s too indispensable to simply disable on your own: all your Google apps require it to run smoothly. However, it is possible to have your smartphone running completely free of Google apps and services, thanks to the availability of custom ROMS like LineageOS.

Why does Google Play Services consume battery?

Google Play Services generally consumes a low amount of battery, just a few percentage points. However, in other cases, users have seen Google gobble up an inordinate amount of battery after an Android OS update. The most likely reason is an incompatibility issue between your Android version and that of Google Play Services.

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Google Play Services can sometimes be a battery killer / © AndroidPIT

The quickest solutions are:

  • Remove updates to the app (Settings > Applications > All > Google Play Services > three dots menu > Uninstall updates). You might need to head to Settings > Security > Device Administrators and disable Android Device Manager first.
  • Disable the synchronization of Google data (Settings > Accounts. Here, press the menu button (three dots) and disable Auto-sync data).

For a more in-depth guide on how to solve battery problems arising from issues with Google Play Services, check out our dedicated article:

We hope that this has cleared up some of the mystery around this enigmatic app. Do you have any more questions? Let us know in the comments.

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