Google Play advances in its war against old, unupdated apps. The Play Store has had a rolling minimum level of Android version support for a while now; Developers must use a “Target API Level” that is a year old or newer or they will not be able to update their apps. Well Google announces a second rolling minimum – if an app’s target API level is two years old, the app will be hidden from the Play Store listings. This means users who are looking for a new app to install won’t see abandoned apps.
Android’s “target API level” system is something of a backward compatibility setting for Android apps. Each new version of Android is identified by a new API level, which increases by one with each release. Currently Android 12L is API level 32, and Android 13 will be API level 33. Each version of Android comes with new features and security restrictions for app developers, but because Google doesn’t want to break old apps with every version, the API’s level system allows app developers to “align” the version of Android’s features and restrictions ‘ under which they want to run.
The target API level has nothing to do with that minimum Version of Android an app is running on (that would be the second big app setting, the “minimum API level”); It just lets apps say, “I’m coded with compatibility for Android 12 features and restrictions, if available.” In this case, the app would be given access to the Android 12 features and apply the Android 12 security restrictions to them, and it would run normally on older versions.
Before Google enforced these Play Store restrictions, the target API layer was a voluntary system. Targeting a low API level was a viable strategy for a developer like Facebook, who probably doesn’t care about new features and wants to run with as few restrictions as possible. Malware would also target low API levels. Google Play’s Target API rules, introduced in 2018, ensure that new restrictions apply to potentially malicious and data-hungry apps on the Play Store.
The new rules will come into effect on November 1, 2022. At this point, Android 13 (API level 33) should be the latest version. The Play Store will no longer accept app updates that do not target at least Android 12 (API level 31), which will be a year old, although these apps will continue to appear normally in the Play Store. With the new rule, the Play Store also hides apps that are not aimed at at least the two-year-old Android 11 (API level 30). Developers can update their apps to a supported version to remove the restrictions.
Non-compliant apps “will not be available for discovery or installation for new users with devices running Android OS versions higher than the apps’ target API level.” Users who previously installed an app can still find and reinstall it, but tracking of new users will stop. Also note that the hiding only occurs if you’re running a version of Android that’s newer than the old app you’re trying to download.
The result is that Google Play search results and category listings should only show apps that are supported by the developer, making it easier to find quality apps. Developers have two years to update their apps, and that’s not even counting the eight-month heads-ups they get from Android’s public developer preview program. It looks like only the most neglected, abandoned apps are hidden from the Play Store.
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