For years, Google has been tackling the problem of Android apps consuming too much room on smartphones that often lack much storage to begin with. Now it has a new approach.
A few years ago, Android started suggesting which infrequently used apps should be uninstalled to free up space on a device. That was good for users but also meant making a choice to remove an app they might have rather stayed where it was. And it also meant developers faced higher uninstalls, possibly only because the user's hardware lacked enough storage space. This is particularly a problem on lower to mid-range Android phones.
Soon, Android could be helping users free up space through 'archiving', a new approach where apps are partially rather than completely uninstalled. Archiving will hollow out an app but keep the app's user data intact and, importantly, doesn't uninstall the app completely. Google claims archiving should result in users reclaiming about 60% of app storage temporarily.
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The archived app remains on the device so it can be restored when needed and should come back to life with all user data if and when the user wants it again.
It does this through archived Android Packages (APKs), which will be enabled in a future version of Bundletool – a tool that the Android Studio IDE, the Android Gradle Plugin and Google Play use to build an app bundle and convert it to APKs for devices. The latest version of Bundletool is 1.8.2, but the upcoming version 1.10 will give developers using app bundles the archiving capability.
"Archived APKs are very small APKs that preserve user data until the app is restored," Google notes in an Android developer blogpost.
Google notes that Android users won't see archiving until later in 2022. Presumably then it will explain how the choice to archive an app works and appears on the screen. But developers can start creating archived APKs now.
Archiving should be a popular feature for developers and helpful for consumers who've packed their device with too many apps but would prefer not to delete them just yet.
"Instead of uninstalling an app, users would be able to "archive" it – free up space temporarily and be able to re-activate the app quickly and easily," Google notes.
Developers win by having fewer uninstalls and "substantially lower friction" to regain users in future.