Dolphin Emulator devs warn of limited functionality due to Android’s Scoped Storage changes
Android’s Scoped Storage rules have been a major point of contention among app developers. While Scoped Storage is undoubtedly needed to reduce how much access apps have to a user’s private files, its implementation fundamentally changes how apps can access your phone’s internal storage, creating several limitations for a wide range of apps in the process. For instance, the developers behind Dolphin Emulator, which is the most popular open-source emulator for the Nintendo GameCube and Wii, have now warned that the emulator will offer limited functionality due to the Scoped Storage changes introduced in Android 11.
In the Dolphin Progress Report for December 2020 and January 2021, the developers highlight how Android’s Scoped Storage changes will limit the emulator’s functionality. It notes that because of the poor performance of the Storage Access Framework API, game list loading times have been increased by more than tenfold. While that doesn’t affect actual emulation performance, it will take a toll on user experience. Additionally, the API’s limitations will force the developers to drop some features, like customizing paths for the Wii NAND.
“This is unfortunate because many of our users like to take advantage of multiple NANDs due to the Wii’s strict space limitations that emulation cannot easily bypass. Currently, we’re planning on using a single preset Wii NAND directory to bypass the need for Scoped Storage. While this means no performance issues, it does mean Android users will be locked to using a single Wii NAND. It also will have to use a device’s internal storage,” the report adds.
The changes will have a much more adverse effect on Android TV users. The report notes that while the Dolphin Emulator’s file picker works on some devices, the folder picker that the emulator uses to select game directories is completely broken on Android TV. Due to this, Android TV devices running Android 11 will not be able to use Dolphin’s game list functionality at all. However, devices running older versions of Android will continue to use the old version of the folder picker. Devices like NVIDIA’s SHIELD TV, which run Android 9 or older, won’t be affected by the changes, and Dolphin’s game list will continue to work normally until they update to Android 11.
Furthermore, since the Dolphin Emulator is currently targeting the Android 10 SDK, its developers have slowly implemented support for the Storage Access Framework API without being forced to use it in areas where it may cause problems. But by November 2021, the developers will be forced to conform to the Storage Access Framework API in order to publish updates to Google Play, which will completely change things for Android 11 users. Thankfully, while the changes will adversely affect user experience in a few ways, the core emulation experience won’t be compromised.
As you’d expect, these problems aren’t limited to emulators. Third-party file managers are also affected by the Scoped Storage changes, and Google now requires developers to submit a form to get broad file storage access in Android 11. And even with broad file storage access, file managers no longer have access to certain external storage directories. Therefore, it won’t be nearly as easy to mod Android games anymore.