Android TV is going to be less storage-greedy in the future. Google announced that Android’s space-saving app file format, Android App Bundles (AABs), will finally be the standard on Android TV. By May 2023—that’s in six months—Google will require all Android TV apps to switch to the new file format, which can cut down on app storage requirements by 20 percent.
Storage for Android TV is always tough because hardware manufacturers want to make smart TV and set-top-box hardware as cheaply as possible, and that often means shipping with a minimal amount of storage. Google says that “in 2022, smartphones often have a minimum storage size of 64GB, but smart TVs have an average of just 8GB.” Google itself is actually a big offender here, with the Google Chromecast with Google TV shipping with only 8GB of storage. That’s nowhere near 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 out there, with some of the biggest reaching 10GB+, but most Android TV users can’t install them.
Android App Bundles won’t be a magic bullet 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 breaking an app up into modules, rather than one big monolithic APK (the old Android app format) with every possible piece of data. Android apps support a ton of different languages, display resolutions, and CPU architectures, but each individual device only needs to cherry-pick a few of those options to work. Android App Bundles integrate with the Play Store to create a dynamic delivery system for each module. Your phone communicates which modules it needs to the Play Store, and Google’s servers bundled up an appropriate package and sent it to your device. It’s even possible for developers to move some lesser-used app functionality into a bundle 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, namely to Google’s cloud, which causes quite a bit of Google lock-in. Developers must upload their app-signing keys and codebase to Google’s servers, which are now responsible for compiling its apps into possibly 100-plus 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 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 average around a 20 percent space savings compared to a monolithic APK, which will be a huge help for these storage-starved devices. Since 2021, they have been the required standard for phones and tablets, and in six months, TV apps will be required to use them, too. Developers who don’t switch in time will have their TV apps hidden from search, so they’d better get to work! Google estimates that “in most cases it will take one engineer about three days to migrate.”
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