Play-approved apps that are shared peer-to-peer will soon automatically authenticate and be added to user libraries, with the changes to allow that rolling out beginning June 19. That’s according to a recent Android Developers post from Google and will be accomplished using small metadata packets added on top of APKs distributed via the Play Store. What that means is that the Google Play Store will be able to determine whether an application installed on a device was downloaded and installed from the official Android app store or sideloaded. The new policy could feasibly cause concerns about whether or not that could ultimately lead to a crackdown on unauthenticated applications. However, Google appears to be implementing the change in an attempt to address a common problem that’s prevalent in rapidly developing and underdeveloped markets. Namely, the company says it is putting that metadata in place to help assist users that don’t always have the best connection, forcing them to sideload APKs provided by other users.
To accomplish that, the Play Store will be authenticating the sideloaded applications and, if said app is Play-approved, adding Play distributed apps to a user’s Google Play library. That means that if users sideloaded an APK from a friend or other source and the app is identical to a version distributed by the Play Store, that app will show up under the user’s “My apps” section. The benefit of that is that when the app updates and the user has a data connection or is on Wi-Fi, the app will be able to update to the latest version directly. It’s a move that not only cuts out the middle-man but goes further to ensure that the user has the most secure version available for an app. Moreover, it ensures that they don’t need to risk being infected by malicious software from all of the sideloading. While it’s not a perfect solution and not everything on the Play Store is technically safe, it should prove helpful to those in areas where connections are not always readily available.
Bearing that in mind, this is one change that will undoubtedly take quite some time to roll out and even longer before it begins showing up for users who have sideloaded official Play Store apps. Primarily, that’s because there are over 3.6 million applications on the market, so even a small amount of data being added will take a long time to add across the board. Then there’s the fact that a user who has shared the app will need to have a version for which metadata has been added. If they don’t have a version with the metadata, the change won’t show up for a user that they’ve shared the app with. In any case, once the change is implemented across the board, it should benefit developers in terms of spreading the latest version of an app to a wider audience as well.