Google will begin to enforce a change that would reduce Android apps distributed through the Play Store. This week the company ad Starting in August, developers will need to release apps as a proprietary Android app bundle rather than the standard APK release format.
However, the requirement only applies to new applications. Existing apps are currently exempt, as are private apps released for “managed Google Play users,” Google wrote in its blog. Developers have about a month to reconfigure their apps to the Android app package or the .aab file extension.
Google initially introduced the Android app package in Android 9 to help alleviate the overhead associated with app distribution. There are so many different combinations of hardware and languages within the device ecosystem that shipping code to tailor it can lead to heavy applications. A high-end flagship device usually doesn’t have a problem analyzing all of this. But budget and mid-range devices struggle to sort through large amounts of data due to their limited processing power and limited storage space.
The Android app set basically splits APKs into an archived file that all in one contains “Split APKs” installed individually by the Google Play Store, depending on the corresponding device. Ars Technica has a good breakdown of how APK Split works with different setups:
As the name suggests, these “split APKs” are not entire apps. They are part of an application, each targeting a specific area of change, which combine to form the final application. With App Bundles, if you have a high-res ARMv8 device with a locale set to English with App Bundles, the Play Store will spit out a bunch of split APKs that only support that type of device. If your friend has a low resolution ARM v7 phone for English and Hindi, they will get another set of APKs that support exactly that. Google Play can generate custom APKs for each user, giving them only the code they need and nothing more.
The result of Split APK is apps that are, on average, 15% smaller than the standard app package. Developers can even modularize different features in their applications, so that they are only installed when they are applicable and available for use.
There is a caveat, as it always is when a tech company begins to restrict the way it distributes software. Since this is how Google checks apps before installation, they have to go through the Play Store to be unbundled. Application bundles are based on an open source format, but they leverage the power of the cloud to handle all the application signing requirements needed for back-end verification. Small app stores don’t have that kind of money or firepower, which makes Google’s offerings the status quo.
Put simply, Android app bundles will give Google more power over the apps it hosts in the Play Store. This is perfect for your ordinary Android user, who can rest easy knowing that their apps are lighter in weight and externally verified through Google. But for people who have a knack for charging and going against the grain, so to speak, it might get annoying, especially if you’re using a third party that doesn’t have the necessary signing keys.
It is also amazing how this will work within platforms such as Windows 11, which will distribute Android apps through the Amazon store and allow APK sideloading. If developers only release .aab files in the future, released APKs may contain only the parts of the app that are necessary for it to run. Without forgetting Amazon do not support this type of file, then will these apps even show up in the Microsoft Store?
I imagine this could be something like what I encountered while installing app bundles on the Huawei MatePad Pro 12.6, using an application like APK Mirror. The tablet uses Android apps, but it is running the operating system version of Huawei and does not have access to Google Play services. I managed to load APK files successfully. But anything that is packaged as an app bundle would return an error message. I’m still trying to figure out how to get around this.
When this new requirement comes into effect, the mass of app bundles will help ensure a safer and more capable Android device for those who use their smartphones and tablets as Google intended. It would also help Google save bandwidth, as it wouldn’t constantly pull out large amounts of data every time a user installs a new app. But one wonders how that will affect the rest of the ecosystem, which has long boasted of its openness to everyone.