Apps take up a ton of space. And although companies are making smartphones and tablets with more storage than ever before, the apps that fill them remain chock full of unnecessary bloat. Enter App Archiving for Android, announced today by Google.
App Archiving is a feature that essentially removes all the parts of the app without removing the data that’s specific to you. It not only frees up precious device storage space but also ensures that if you need the app again, you can reinstall it and quickly pick up right where you left off.
In a post on its Android Developers blog, Google said that App Archiving would help users reclaim up to 60% of the storage space on their devices. But the main reason for the archiving feature is to help bolster app retention.
“One of the main reasons users uninstall apps is to free up space,” write Google’s Lidia Gaymond and Vicki Amin, Product Managers at Google Play. “To prevent unnecessary uninstalls and help users get more out of their devices, we started working on [this] new feature.”
Android will generate a new type of app package to facilitate freeing up space, called archived APKs. They’re smaller than typical APK packages, and they preserve only the user data until an app gets restored. Google said it will start creating these archived APKs now though they won’t be functional until this feature goes live to consumers later in the year.
Recent versions of the Android OS, starting with Android 11, have prompted users to remove an app or replenish permissions if they hadn’t used it for a while. The newer iterations of Android are programmed to ensure apps aren’t recording users’ data in the background and to remind users that rarely-launched apps are taking up space.
But Google’s been working deep in Android’s core to make App Archiving an essential part of the operating system. Last year, the company announced developers would have to start adopting the Android App Bundle rather than the standard APK publishing format in anticipation of this move. Android tinkerers and enthusiasts were worried about what that would have meant for sideloading, though they’ve since found methods around it.
The concept of ditching rarely used apps isn’t new in the tech industry. Apple also archives unused iOS apps, a feature introduced with iOS 11. On the iPhone and iPad, it’s called Offloading. The feature leaves the icon and user data intact, and then when the user wants to use the app again, they can tap to download it and log back in. Consoles like the Nintendo Switch utilize this kind of file archiving for games since storage is limited to the SD card size. The function allows faster access to games they’re actually playing. And if you’re craving to play through a title you’ve archived, you can download it again and pick up right where you left off.
We’ve asked Google for clarification on whether App Archiving will be bundled into the Android 13 software update expected later this year or if Google plans to push it to older devices through a separate Play Store update. The company hasn’t made public what visual form the feature will take, either. But we do know the feature will be beneficial for users with low-end and mid-range devices with limited space—the same customers that help the Android platform proliferate in all corners of the world.