Android TV will be less greedy for storage in the future. Google has announced that Android’s space-saving app file format, Android App Bundles (AAB), will finally be the standard on Android TV. In May 2023, six months from now, Google will require all Android TV apps to switch to the new file format, which can reduce app storage requirements by 20 percent.
Storage for Android TV is always difficult because hardware manufacturers want to make smart TVs and set-top boxes as cheap as possible, and that often means shipping with a minimal amount of storage. Google says that “in 2022, smartphones will typically have a minimum storage size of 64GB, but smart TVs will have an average of just 8GB.” Google itself is actually a big offender here, with the Google Chromecast with Google TV shipping with just 8GB of storage. That’s not enough, and many people run out of storage on the new Chromecast with only the bare minimum of content apps installed. There are 10,000 Android TV apps, some of the biggest ones are over 10GB, but most Android TV users can’t install them.
Android app bundles won’t be a magic solution for poorly designed devices with insufficient storage, but every little bit will help. Android app bundles were announced with Android 9 in 2018 as a way to save device storage by splitting an app into modules, rather than one big monolithic APK (the old Android app format) with all the possible data. Android apps support tons of different languages, display resolutions, and CPU architectures, but each individual device only needs to choose a few of these options to work. Android app bundles integrate with the Play Store to create a dynamic delivery system for each module. Your phone communicates the modules it needs to the Play Store, and Google’s servers put together a suitable package and send it to your device. It’s even possible for developers to port some less-used app features into a package that can be downloaded on the fly if a user needs it.
App bundles basically move a lot of app packaging responsibility to the cloud, i.e. Google’s cloud, which results in quite a lot of blocking from Google. Developers must upload their app signing keys and code base to Google’s servers, which are now responsible for compiling their apps into potentially more than 100 modules. The Play Store is now responsible for detecting what a phone needs to deliver those modules on the fly. But even if a third-party app store could replicate all of this, there’s a good chance developers aren’t interested in trusting a million different app stores with their signing keys.
Google says Android app bundles save an average of 20 percent space compared to a monolithic APK, which will be a big help for these storage-strapped devices. From 2021, they are the required standard for phones and tablets, and in six months, TV apps will also have to use them. Developers who don’t change in time will have their TV apps hidden from search, so they better get to work. Google estimates that “in most cases it will take an engineer about three days to migrate.”
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