Google replacing Android Apps default delivery module: App Bundles will make APK files no longer valid?

Android Apps Bundle APK
Apps within Bundles, not APK. Pic credit: Tony Webster/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The Google Android Play Store is about to undergo a significant change. The search giant is changing the core delivery package of Android apps to Android App Bundles from the present APK files.

APK files are essentially on their way out if Google has its way with Android Play Store. The primary repository of apps for smartphones that run the Android operating system is shifting to Android App Bundles. Even the “expansion files”, which are called OBB will become obsolete.

Google retiring APK and OBB file format in favor of App Bundle?

Google introduced the Android App Bundle format in May of 2018. The announcement at the Google I/O was part of the company’s “modern development push”.

Moving ahead, the Android App Bundle (AAB) will reportedly become the new “default” for all new applications that developers will publish on the Play Store.

The change will begin in August 2021. In other words, in just a month’s time, Android apps on the Play Store will have to adopt the AAB format for delivering apps.

“To bring these benefits to more users and focus on modern Android distribution that benefits all developers, Google Play will start requiring new apps to be published with the Android App Bundle starting August 2021. This will replace the APK as the standard publishing format.”

Incidentally, Google has exempted “existing applications” from the mandatory transition. Even the private apps for managed enterprise users won’t have to make the transition.

The change also applies to Play App Signing. Needless to mention, the new AAB platform needs the signing process.

The Play App Signing process will reportedly take advantage of APK Signature Scheme v4. Google claims the process will help to “access upcoming performance features available on newer devices.”

Why is Google forcibly replacing APK files for Android apps?

Incidentally, in addition to the APK files, Google is also replacing the “OBB” files that usually accompany large apps. In place of the OBB files, developers will have to rely on Play Asset Delivery or Play Feature Delivery for large expansion files.

Similarly, instant-enabled Android App Bundles will replace the Instant app ZIP for distributing new and updating “instant experiences.”

Google claims over 1 million applications are already using the Android App Bundle package delivery container. These include the majority of the top 1,000 apps and games on the Play Store, such as Twitter, Netflix, Gameloft titles, Adobe, and Duolingo.

At the backend, the new App Bundles are significantly “smarter” than the traditional APK app delivery package. App Bundles can observe account device configurations and languages.

This means the Google Play Store can deliver smaller packages. In other words, an Android smartphone will download only the desired data files, leaving out the optional information that traditionally came along.

Google claims such optimizations ensure that AAB-distributed applications take up to 15 percent less space than universal APKs on average. Simply put, Android smartphone users could experience faster installs. Moreover, the new App Bundles will take relatively smaller space on the device.

It is not immediately clear how the change will impact the massive third-party app repositories and websites that offer APK files. However, given the fact that several apps are exempt, it is quite likely that these files could still work.

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