Google is preparing to rid its Play Store of outdated apps. The company has warned Android app developers that starting November 1, 2022, it will hide apps and block their installation on user devices if the developers have not kept up with the latest versions of the Android operating system. Specifically, Google said apps that don’t target an Android API within two years of the last major Android release will no longer be discoverable or installable by new users whose devices are running higher Android OS versions. to the target applications. API level.
In short, this means that Android users who keep up to date with the latest software or those who have just purchased new Android phones will no longer be able to find or download old, outdated apps.
This shouldn’t be a significant adjustment for active developers building for Android, as Google already requires new apps and app updates to target an Android API level within a year of the system’s last major release. Android operating system. And any submitted app updates that also do not meet this requirement cannot be published on Google Play.
But the change would impact fully discontinued apps or ones where the developer still serves its users but no longer keeps up with the latest Android API updates.
Since apps aren’t entirely removed from Google Play, this won’t be a direct equivalent of the great App Store purges of years past, where Apple removed tens of thousands of obsolete and discontinued apps. In fact, Google explains that existing users of older apps affected by the new policy will still be able to discover, reinstall, and use them on any version of the Android operating system that the app supports. This may be more user-friendly than simply pulling apps from the App Store, as Apple had done.
However, Google’s goal was similar to Apple’s in that outdated apps not only provide a poor experience but are also a potential security risk.
As Google explained in its announcement about the new policy, every update to the Android operating system brings “privacy, security, and user experience improvements.”
“Users with the latest devices or those who are completely up to date with Android updates expect to realize the full potential of all the privacy and security protections Android has to offer. Expanding our target-level API requirements will prevent users from installing older apps that may not have these protections,” the company said.
While there are ongoing issues with Andorid malware, including recently from Russian state-backed actors who engage in espionage, such malware isn’t always found in outdated apps. Instead, they often prompt the user to allow them to use whatever high-level permissions they need, and the user agrees.
Google notes that the “vast majority” of Google Play apps already meet the new requirements and will not be affected by the policy change. For other apps, this notification is to give reputable developers time to make necessary updates.
To help developers with the transition, Google has released a technical guide to help migrate apps to target API levels, along with Help Center documentation that includes exact timelines for changes. It also offers developers the option to request a six-month extension if they need more time for their migration through a form that will be available in the Play Console later this year.
Google has been scrambling to tighten its app market in recent days as regulations take a closer look at the mobile app ecosystem. This month, Google Play’s new billing payment policy also came into effect. The company announced in 2020 that developers would have to comply with Google’s policy that requires apps selling digital goods and services to use Google Play’s own billing system. Unless developers have been approved for an extension, they will no longer be able to submit app updates until they are in compliance starting April 1, 2022, excluding any issues with critical security. On June 1, 2022, non-compliant apps will be removed from Google Play.
Combined with this semi-purge of outdated apps, the Play Store will likely lose many apps in the coming months.