Changes to Google Play Store will require apps to be optimized for newer Android versions

Google Play Store
Google Play Store (Image credit: Android Central)

Google has made some significant announcements on its Android Developers Blog centering around some new policies developers will need to follow to continue publishing to the Play Store. Google says that starting in August 2018 all new apps submitted will need to target Android Oreo, and in November 2018 updates to existing apps will need to do the same. In addition, starting early in 2018 there will be some extra metadata added to the app file (the .apk file) to verify it's authenticity and in August 2019 all apps will be required to provide a 64-bit version even if they target any native Android libraries.

In the second half of 2018, Play will require that new apps and app updates target a recent Android API level. This will be required for new apps in August 2018, and for updates to existing apps in November 2018. This is to ensure apps are built on the latest APIs optimized for security and performance.In August 2019, Play will require that new apps and app updates with native libraries provide 64-bit versions in addition to their 32-bit versions.Additionally, in early 2018, Play will start adding a small amount of security metadata on top of each APK to further verify app authenticity. You do not need to take any action for this change.

Google says these changes are to help make the apps we use as secure as Android itself. They've given some simple examples that explain just how these changes will help here.

Right now, a developer can upload an app targeted towards an old version of Android and not ask for permission to see things like camera data or location when you first run it because those became official with Android Marshmallow (API 23). Adding metadata to use as a check for authenticity makes sense here because that can be used to separate apps that were downloaded from Google Play from other sources for installations (as well as be used for copy protection if Google wanted to do so), and requiring 64-bit versions of apps is getting things ready for application processors that don't support 32-bit binaries.

A side effect of these changes will affect how manufacturers update devices as well as the practice of selling new devices with older versions of Android.

Next August, all new apps submitted to Google Play will have to be targeted for Android Oreo. In November, updates for existing apps will also need to be targeted for Oreo. These requirements will advance each year so apps in August 2019 will need to target the next version of Android. Each year the same thing happens and new apps or updates to existing apps won't be accepted unless they target a recent version.

Existing apps that don't get updated will be allowed to stay, and the development tools will still allow the creation of apps targeted for old versions. But Google Play won't. Apps designed for old software don't make use of Android's newer features and are less secure because of it.

When your phone can't run the app you want because the software is old, you'll notice.

As a result, companies who sell phones with old versions or forget about those phones when it comes time to update them will stand out because the products won't have access to new or newly updated apps. Google says they encourage developers to do what they can to make apps backward compatible, but we all know how things go when they're only suggested or encouraged. Look at the state of tablet apps on Google Play as an example here. These changes will effectively shut out phones with old versions when it comes to the newest apps.

We expect to hear plenty more about these new policies before they go into effect and have some questions about how the new "authenticity" metadata will be used to get answered. But we like the idea of Google doing what it can when it comes to keeping our data safer and the apps that want to use it in check a little better.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • Does this mean that future Android devices should follow Google 's and Apple's example and offer monthly patches and, at least 2 years of updates? I mean, if we are talking about security, up to date apps, and obsolescence...
  • This isn't exactly true about being shut out from new apps on old versions of Android. See below from the blog post from Google: Existing apps that are not receiving updates are unaffected. Developers remain free to use a minSdkVersion of their choice, so there is no change to your ability to build apps for older Android versions. We encourage developers to provide backwards compatibility as far as reasonably possible.
  • LOL. Make apps support new versions of Android but don't make manufacturers support new versions of Android. Nice.
  • Right? My wife got a new phone in 2012 that still had gingerbread on it. I was amazed that they put a SW version that old on a brand new phone.
  • What phone would that be? I find it hard to believe that anything released in 2017 would still run Gingerbread.
  • "Google says these changes are to help make the apps we use as secure as Android itself." Android and secure are two words that should never be used in the same sentence.
  • Android on itself is pretty secure tbh.
  • "LOL. Make apps support new versions of Android but don't make manufacturers support new versions of Android. Nice." Seems like Google is trying to force everyone into buying the Pixel phones. This will definitely cause some pause when I am looking at non-Pixel phones going forward given how agonizingly some manufacturers are about issuing updates if they even bother to do it...
  • They're not forcing apps to only run on the latest version. They're forcing apps to be optimised for the latest version. Big difference there and apps can still be made to run on older versions of Android (and, indeed, that is encouraged by Google).
  • Smoke and mirrors for forced obsolesence
  • Good, if you can't have your devices within a one year backward target range when we're talking about devices that are only supported for two years of OS updates anyway, aside from Google's new three year OS update policy, to hell with you.
  • All that's being said from what I can gather is that you need to, at minimum, target the latest version of Android for new and updated apps. There's nothing stopping you from targeting older versions as well (and, indeed, it's encouraged to make apps compatible with as many versions as is reasonably possible - a judgement which differs from app to app). Similarly, if an app has been abandoned on Google Play and isn't receiving any more updates for whatever reason, it won't be affected by this change.
  • Nice to see much needed changes to the play store hopefully the app get as good as IOS apps.
  • Does anyone know why Google Play Services takes up so many, but varied, amounts of MB? Example 270mb on my Note 4, 470mb on my wife's S6, and 440mb on my Xperia X.
    The Play Store and its sundry apps now take up more storage than all my early Android phones came with out of the box and this must be a nightmare for anyone with older phones. What are the benefits for the consumer?
  • Interesting...I think they should probably make it so that the apps can be one version further behind, as it is doubtful manufacturers are going to update inexpensive phones. Example in August 2018 minimum support Nougat. One of the primary selling points of Android is that Android will work on inexpensive phones. It seems to me that this new policy hinders that. I understand what Google is trying to do here, I just think they are being a little too heavy handed.
  • There's nothing stopping developers from making their apps run on older versions of Android (and this is even encouraged by Google). They simply need to optimise their apps for the latest version.
  • There is no reason a brand new low budget phone can't come with oreo other then manufacture laziness. Oreo will run fine on the lower hardware. It is the OEM not being on the ball to have their sofware updated with the new version of Android.
  • Blackberry mobiles will be screwed then lol
  • Guys this sdkVersion must be Oreo has nothing to do with the min version to support older Android versions... Still a new app that had the sdkTarget to 8.0 can be run just fine on 5.0 if the minVersion is 5.0....