Google is preparing to rid its Play Store of outdated apps. The company warned Android app developers that starting November 1, 2022, it will hide apps and block their installation on users’ devices if developers haven’t kept up with the latest versions of the Android operating system. Specifically, Google said that apps that don’t target an Android API within two years of the latest major Android release will no longer be discoverable or installable by new users whose devices are running Android OS versions higher than that Target of Apps API level.
In a nutshell, this means that Android users who are keeping up with the latest software or who have just bought new Android phones can no longer find or download old, outdated apps.
This shouldn’t be a major adjustment for active developers developing for Android, as Google requires new apps and app updates to target an Android API layer within a year of the release of the latest major version of the Android OS. Any submitted app updates that also do not meet this requirement cannot be published on Google Play.
However, the change would impact fully discontinued apps or ones where the developer is still serving its users but no longer keeping up with the latest Android API updates.
Because the apps aren’t completely removed from Google Play, this isn’t a direct equivalent of the major App Store purges of the past few years, where Apple pulled down tens of thousands of outdated, discontinued apps. In fact, Google states that the existing users of the legacy apps affected by the new policy can still find them, reinstall them and use them on any Android OS version supported by the app. That might be more consumer-friendly than just ripping apps off the App Store like Apple did.
However, Google’s goal was similar to Apple’s, as outdated apps not only offer a poor experience, but also pose a potential security risk.
As Google explained in its announcement of the new policy, each update to the Android operating system brings “privacy, security, and user experience improvements.”
“Users with the latest devices or those fully engaged with Android updates expect to take full advantage of all the privacy and security protections Android has to offer. Extending our API requirements to the target level will protect users from installing legacy apps that may not have these protections,” the company said.
While there are ongoing problems with Andorid malware, including recently those spying on Russian state-backed actors, these malicious programs are not always found in outdated apps. Instead, they often ask the user to allow them to use the required general permissions, and the user agrees.
Google notes that the “vast majority” of Google Play apps already meet the new requirements and are unaffected by the policy change. For other apps, this notification is intended to give reputable developers time to make the necessary updates.
To help developers make the transition, Google has released a technical guide to help migrate apps to the target API layers, along with help center documentation detailing the exact timelines for the changes. It also offers developers the ability to request a six-month extension if they need more time for their migration via a form that will be available in the Play Console later this year.
Google has been working to streamline its app marketplace for the past few days as regulations target the mobile app ecosystem more heavily. This month also saw Google Play’s new payment policy come into effect. The company had announced back in 2020 that developers would have to comply with Google’s policy, which 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 compliant starting April 1, 2022, barring critical security issues. On June 1, 2022, non-compliant apps will be removed from Google Play.
Combined with this semi-purge of outdated apps, the Play Store is likely to lose a lot of apps in the coming months.