It’s no secret that one of the biggest issues Android has faced is fragmentation — there are many devices running older versions of the OS, and carriers are generally painfully slow about upgrading older phones (only around 30% of handsets are currently running the current version, Froyo). One way that Google has been working to mitigate this problem has been to decouple key Android applications from the core operating system, allowing it to update its apps more frequently, without having to worry about carriers getting around to distributing OS updates. And today, it’s put one of Android’s most essential applications on this fast track: Gmail.
You can now download a standalone version of Gmail from Android Market (use the QR code below if you don’t want to have to go looking for it). The app includes some nifty new features, including a menu with options like ‘Reply’ that follows you down the screen as you read a message.
It also includes what Google is calling “limited support” for Priority Inbox, which basically means you can browse the ‘Important’ label (“limited” is definitely an appropriate choice of words here). Fortunately the fact that this is now a standalone app means we can probably expect more frequent updates in the future
This isn’t the first key Google application to get the standalone release treatment: Google Maps, Voice Search, and the main Google Search application have all been released separately as well.