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Android 13's successor could make it impossible to sideload outdated apps

What you need to know

  • A potential new change arriving with Android 14 may prevent users from sideloading outdated apps on their devices.
  • Google is said to be planning to enforce stricter API limitations that will block apps that don’t meet minimum requirements.
  • Third-party app stores may also be unable to install apps that fall short of the upcoming guidelines.

The old practice of sideloading outdated apps onto older Android versions frequently leads to the spread of malware, but Google may be attempting to put a stop to it in the next version of its mobile operating system.

Code sleuths over at 9to5Google have spotted a change in the AOSP (Android Open-Source Project), which indicates that Android 13's successor will block the installation of outdated apps targeting older Android versions, regardless of the source. This means users won't be able to download certain outdated apps from the Google Play Store and third-party app stores, as well as perform sideloading, once Android 14 becomes public.

Developers constantly need to update their apps to meet the Play Store's minimum API level requirements. Currently, Play Store guidelines require new apps to target at least Android 12 in line with a recent policy change introduced earlier this month. 

This prevents developers from releasing apps that target older Android versions, but users are still free to sideload outdated apps. That's because these requirements only apply to apps on the Google Play Store. For outdated apps that you've installed at some point in the past, it's still possible to download them again from the Play Store even if they don't comply with the minimum OS requirements.

However, this is likely to completely change with Android 14, if the code change is anything to go by. Google appears keen on making API requirements a bit stricter with the next-gen Android version, effectively preventing outdated apps from being downloaded from the Play Store or even sideloaded.

The goal is obviously to help stop the spread of malware, at least on Android phones, which is often done through the sideloading of outdated apps. Google will apparently initially block apps targeting older Android versions. The threshold will then be gradually raised to Android Marshmallow, with the minimum requirements expected to be updated as newer Android versions are released.

That said, the upcoming change is not a total ban on anyone's ability to sideload apps; this will still be possible through a command shell using a new flag. However, this process is a lot more complicated than simply sideloading an APK.

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