Some Android users will finally be able to back up their smartphone or tablet to Google Drive manually, following an apparent update to Google Play Services spotted by Twitter user Alex Kruger. Better still, it seems to be the case that this change doesn't require the newest version to use, with Mr. Kruger confirming that it has shown up on both a Google Pixel 2 and Motorola Droid Turbo running Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Android Headlines can further confirm that it is available to older handsets running Android 8.0 Oreo as well, with our own HTC U11 now showing the manual backup button. So this appears to be a change that will hit just about every Android across the board. To access the feature, users simply need to navigate to the same menu which previously held the automatic backup options within the Settings application. It will appear as a blue button just underneath the toggle for automated backups and can be used regardless of whether that is turned on.
Background: Prior to the change, users needed to depend almost exclusively on automated backups of their app data, call history, contacts, SMS, and device settings. Those depended on a given device going into standby with a solid internet connection and then only when the device was charging. Although that's convenient for ensuring that a backup is performed when an Android smartphone is plugged in for the night or under similar circumstances, it isn't at all ideal. Not only does that prevent users from completely backing up their smartphone – at least without the installation of a dedicated device backup application – at any time of their choosing. It also prevents a brand new backup from being created if a device becomes broken in such a way as to prevent it from being plugged in or connecting to Wi-Fi. Under certain conditions, those requirements render the backup functionality that's been built into Android since 2016, making backup-specific apps increasingly less relevant, almost completely pointless.
Meanwhile, the change is most surprising because although it has been expected for several months now, it wasn't expected to roll out quite this soon. In fact, speculation leading up to its apparent launch had centered around the prospect that the feature may be built into Android OS itself and therefore wouldn't arrive until Android 9 Pie at the earliest. For clarity, Google had said at the time that the manual backup option would release in a "future Android release." Coupled with statements from company representatives, that was taken to mean that it would arrive as part of the underlying firmware. For clarity, Google had said at the time that the manual backup option would release in a "future Android release." Coupled with statements from company representatives, that was taken to mean that it would arrive as part of the underlying firmware. That may or may not have been the intention at the time of the feature's pronouncement but is obviously not the case now.
Impact: The immediate implications of the incoming change are not necessarily that it will be groundbreaking or fundamentally change how most users backup and restore their data on Android. For power users and others who are more concerned about keeping everything in their backups current, it may be. For everybody else, this will essentially serve as a way to help perform a full device backup in the event that something goes wrong and the handset or tablet needs to be swapped out for a new one. That's going to be particularly pertinent where changes to contacts or app data have occurred recently or where new and vitally important text messages have been received or sent between backups. But it is a nice step forward for one of Android's most useful features, nontheless.