Google appears to be blocking the installation of updates through the popular “sideloading” technique. The Android OS creator has deployed the roadblocks for specific apps for now.
For reasons yet unknown, Google is preventing curious Android smartphone users from sideloading app updates. Tinkerers first noticed the restriction while installing the latest versions of Google Camera and Google Recorder.
Android 11 blocks sideloading app updates:
Google Pixel smartphone’s latest iteration, the Pixel 5, came with the latest versions of the Google Camera and Google Recorder apps. The Google Camera 8.0 and Google Recorder 2.0 offer several interesting features.
As expected, several users of older Google Pixel smartphones obtained copies of the new apps. However, attempts to install the updates on the older devices failed.
Strangely, the issue seems random. In other words, not all owners of older Google Pixel Android smartphones faced difficulties. Incidentally, subjecting the device to a “Factory reset” seemed to remove the block, allowing users to install the updates.
Google seems to be blocking sideloading updates to its Camera and Recorder apps https://t.co/y1n1HhtYBk
— XDA (@xdadevelopers) February 5, 2021
Owing to the random nature of this issue, tinkerers tagged the installation failure as a bug in the latest Android 11. However, a detailed analysis by XDA-Developers has proven that the issue doesn’t stem from a bug.
It seems Google is using a new API in Android 11 to block sideloading updates. If older Pixel device owners try to sideload Google Camera 8.0 or later or Google Recorder 2.0 or later on a Pixel device running Android 11, they see an error message that says the verification could not succeed.
Interestingly, even if users attempt to sideload the APK using a shell command, the Android 11 OS on the device generates a generic error message. Such methods usually offer a detailed explanation about the failure to install an app.
The installation return code that users typically receive is “INSTALL_FAILED_VERIFICATION_FAILURE“. Needless to add, the error message doesn’t offer any details.
Is Google intentionally blocking sideloading updates on Android 11?
According to the analysis of the installation block, Google appears to be verifying the signature of the package installer. The company is relying on the source stamp of the installer package in conjunction with AppIntegrity.
This basically means developers cannot trick Android 11 smartphones into accepting or allowing the installation even if they somehow manage to masquerade the origin of the app as being from Google Play Store.
If you've been wondering why you can't sideload updates to Google Camera or the Recorder app anymore, it seems to be by design. I don't know exactly how it's implemented or why, but it seems that Google is intentionally blocking sideloading updates to these two apps. https://t.co/QhREz4MQNw
— Mishaal Rahman (@MishaalRahman) February 5, 2021
It is now clear that Google is using AppIntegrity and related APIs to block sideloading updates. The issue is currently restricted to Google Camera and Google Recorder apps.
However, an examination of Google Play Services APK reveals that it is using these new APIs that thoroughly examine the origins of the installer file. If the authentication isn’t successful, Android 11 aborts the installation.
Concerningly, Google’s Android operating system doesn’t offer any way to disable integrity verification. Simply put, Google has multiple checks to ensure only legitimate apps, obtained from authenticated sources, can be installed on Android 11.
To date, only a few of Google’s own apps using the app bundle format are blocking non-Play Store installs. However, as evident from the APIs, Google has the ability to extend the restriction to other Play Store apps.