The next version of Android looks set to start blocking the installation of apps built for older versions of Android.
9to5Google spotted changes to the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) that detail the incoming changes, which should go live in Android 14. It’s worth noting that at the time of writing, I wasn’t able to access the AOSP link because don’t have “enough privileges,” according to a pop-up when I tried to access the change. However, before we get into the details, there are a few things to understand.
First, developers can target their apps to Android versions, which have different API levels — application programming interfaces enable new features, security capabilities, and more. Targeting newer versions of Android is important for ensuring compatibility with new features and support for the latest security improvements. Still, developers can target older versions of Android because very few smartphones run the latest version of the OS.
Google has used Play Store guidelines to push developers to keep apps up-to-date and target new versions of the OS. For example, Google updated those guidelines earlier this month to require newly listed Play Store apps to target Android 12 or newer.
However, these guidelines only apply to apps available through the Google Play Store. That loophole is beneficial for developers who want to target older versions of Android, but it also opens a potential security vulnerability for people sideloading apps — for example, malware in a sideloaded app could target an older version of Android with less security. The AOSP change spotted by 9to5 seeks to fix that.
The Android 14 change would make API requirements more strict and block the installation of outdated apps, which would impact both the Play Store and sideloading apps from other sources. To start, Android 14 will block apps targeting very old versions of Android, but ramp up over time to Android 6.0 (Marshmallow). 9to5 notes that device manufacturers may be able to decide their own threshold or even disable the feature entirely.
Moreover, there will still be ways to install outdated apps, but it will require the use of a command shell — the additional steps should prevent regular users from accidentally installing outdated, risky apps.