Google has changed the Gmail application on Android from a protected system application to a Marketplace app, adding new features in the process.
The default Gmail application in Android previously could only be updated with Android updates such as OTA updates from Android 2.1 to 2.2 which are currently underway for a range of smartphones.
However this process means updates aren't possible until carriers get around to modifying the stock Android version for their own purposes, generally by adding carrier specific settings, branding and various 'bloatware' features such as unremovable shortcuts to the carrier's web portals.
Google's move means the Gmail app now appears in the Android Marketplace and so can be updated as often as Google issues updates. The catch is the new version is only compatible with Android 2.2 'Froyo'.
However the new 2.3 version of Gmail already adds a number of useful features including a fixed message action bar that doesn't scroll, support for the Priority Inbox added to the full-fat Google web client a couple of weeks ago and the much missed ability to unfolded quoted text in lengthy email threads.
Unfortunately many Android smartphone owners will still be left waiting for Froyo to appear on their carrier. Unless, that is, they get tired of the delay and reflash their phone with a stock ROM. Not that PCR would advocate anything like that.