Google’s Archived APK format is a new way to free up storage on Android
Many desktop applications and games allow you to keep local data after an uninstall, but that option is less common on Android. That’s especially a problem with phones and tablets, where storage is often more limited. Google is now working on a new solution baked into its development tools: Archived APKs.
Google wrote on the Android Developers Blog on Tuesday, “one of the main reasons users uninstall apps is to free up space. To prevent unnecessary uninstalls and help users get more out of their devices, we started working on a new feature that would enable app archiving. Archiving is a new functionality that will allow users to reclaim ~60% of app storage temporarily by removing parts of the app rather than uninstalling it completely.”
Archived APKs aren’t a perfect solution to reclaiming data, but they might be a valuable alternative to the current all-or-nothing approach with keeping applications installed on Android. Google hasn’t mentioned exactly how they will appear in the Android system, but the company is hoping it will result in fewer app uninstalls — an important metric for app developers.
The upcoming Bundletool 1.10 update will automatically generate archived APKs whenever a developer creates an App Bundle, though Google says they won’t actually be accessible until “the archiving functionality is launched to consumers later in the year.” App developers can also opt-out of generating archived APKs if they want, by adding a custom variable to the build.gradle file in an app project.
Archived APKs seem to be just the next step in the progression of App Bundles, which were initially created to reduce the size of installed applications. Unlike traditional APKs on Android, App Bundles don’t include resources (such as icons and other files) for devices that aren’t needed on the current device, which frees up storage for other applications and games.
It’s not clear yet if Archived APKs will be available to use in the upcoming Android 13 release, or if they could be rolled out with an update to Google Play Services on existing versions of Android. Esper has also published a rundown of how Archived APKs currently work, if you’re curious for more information.