- Xiaomi considers putting an end to extracting and sharing APK files on Android devices.
- A Xiaomi developer proposes prohibiting device owners from copying APK files off their phones for safeguarding private resources.
- Google opposes the notion citing the rationale that the contents of an APK can never be deemed private.
The Android ecosystem has immensely benefitted from the ease of extracting and sharing APK files (used to install apps). Citing an example for the unversed, if the updated version of an app causes significant issues, you can go to a crowdsourced website like APKMirror and download the older version until the resolution of the problem. The other option in case you are short on data is to have a friend send you the APK file (of a game or app) locally, following which you can install it.
What is an APK File?
APK stands for Android Package/Android Package Kit or Android Application Package. It is a file used by the Android operating system to distribute and install apps. The package includes all the elements that an app requires to install correctly on a device. Sideloading APKs permit users to install apps regardless of their presence on the Google Play Store alongside giving access to apps ahead of their official release.
Having said that, companies share mixed opinions on the same, and some might be reluctant to people wading through their app’s codes and files. Mishaal Rahman of Esperdev took to Twitter to share a post highlighting a Xiaomi developer’s proposal to the Android Open Source Project, which would entirely forbid device owners from copying APK files off their phones. The stated rationale is a desire to safeguard “private resources.” This is how the proposal reads: “Do not allow shell to obtain data APK. Apk may include some private resources, so we should not allow others to pull it.”
He suggested that the availability of apps must be restricted to Google Play Store or other trusted app stores in lieu of APK files. On the contrary, Google doesn’t see eye to eye with the proposal. Google, in essence, is not a proponent of APK files though it refrains from banning them on Android devices as it is an open-source-based system. Nevertheless, it always urges people to only download apps and games from trusted sources, like the Google Play Store. In fact, one striking difference between Android and Apple’s iOS operating systems is the facility to download third-party apps from outside of the Google Play store.
Why Google Differs?
One Googler points out a shortcoming in Xiaomi’s proposal stating that it would and should only prevent APK files from being extracted on a standard (“user”) build of Android. In that case, the Googler believes that enthusiasts would just install a debug version of Android and extract APKs as usual. According to their rationale, they are opposed to Xiaomi’s approach to protection because it would not genuinely safeguard anything.
Taking it a step further, several Googlers have spoken out against the notion that the contents of an APK file can ever be deemed private. Is it possible to consider an APK private? The contents of an APK should not be expected to be kept hidden, in my opinion. I’m not sure why we would want it, and even if we did, there’s no way we could guarantee it, even with this adjustment, says Google.
Overall, it appears like Google is uninterested in making the APK file extraction process cumbersome, which is a positive sign for Android’s app ecosystem’s open future.