A change coming with Android 14 will place restrictions on the apps that smartphone users can install on their devices, even if they’re downloading software instead of installing it through the Play Store.
Google’s change should help stop the spread of malware that takes advantage of vulnerabilities found in older versions of its Android operating system, though if you’re a frequent user, it might be a bit more difficult to use non-Google apps. Play Store.
The yearly release of the latest version of Android, or the latest build of iOS from Apple, or the Windows operating system from Microsoft, doesn’t just bring new features for the best Android smartphones to take advantage of. They also include new hidden security tools that make it harder for hackers to break into your device. Eventually, hackers will find a way through the protections, but by then, hopefully Google has moved well beyond even Android 14 to a version of its operating system that isn’t yet cracked.
However, finding fault with old versions of the Android operating system is not useless. Hackers can create apps that specifically target these older versions of Google’s operating system, and can then exploit their flaws to bypass some of the protections on your smartphone if you install it on your device.
Fortunately, Google can stop a lot of this by placing restrictions on new and updated apps that are available through the Play Store. Right now, newly listed Play Store smartphone apps must target Android 12 or later (or Android 11 and later if designed for WearOS) to be eligible to enter Google’s official app store.
The big update is apparently coming to Android (via 9to5Google (opens in a new tab)) is that these app restrictions will no longer exist only for Play Store apps. A change in Android 14 code (opens in a new tab) it will mean that users looking to install apps that are not available through the Play Store (such as by downloading APK files) will not be able to perform the action if the file points to too old a version of Android.
Initially, the change will only prevent users from installing apps from older versions of Android, but eventually, sideloaders won’t be able to install apps compatible with Android 5 or earlier. So, if there’s a non-Google Play Store app that you love that’s based on a very old version of Android, you might want to encourage the developer to update it before Android 14 rolls out.
That said, you’ll still be able to install the old app, it’ll just take a few extra steps with a command shell (opens in a new tab). While this certainly makes the process more tedious, it will likely greatly reduce the chance of someone accidentally uploading malware to your hardware, since you’ll need to think twice before installing an app.
Over time, we expect Google to introduce restrictions that will limit users to even later versions of Android. But in the fight against malware this strategy seems like a great middle ground that balances security with freedom that has drawn many users to the platform.
If you don’t mind having your downloads further restricted in the quest for a more secure operating system, you might want to pick up one of the better iPhones, which are much, much harder to download apps on.