Android app updates to get smaller, saving space on your phone

8 Dec 2016

Google Play Store. Image: ymgerman/Shutterstock

Google is attempting to ease the burden of app updates on your phone’s internal storage, with a new tweak that will reduce the size of the average update by 65pc.

A quick visit to the Google Play Store will reveal that Android app updates are a dime a dozen, particularly when you have a considerable number of apps on your phone.

While the file sizes are typically smaller than the app itself, daily updates can take their toll on phones, with smaller amounts of internal storage resulting in the familiar need to move apps to external storage or delete some to make way for others.

As much as 90pc in some cases

Google’s engineers are hoping to save people time and storage space with a new tweak to how Android apps update, which could reduce the average update file size by as much as 65pc.

In a blog post, Google Play software engineer Andrew Hayden said the space-saving breakthrough was made using a new approach referred to as file-by-file patching.

What this means for the average person is that the typical app update will be 65pc smaller, but even as much as 90pc in some cases.

In one example, Google identifies an update to the Netflix app that uses 16.2MB of storage and an update file of 7.7MB using the existing update process.

When the newer one is introduced, this update file reduces to just 1.2MB.

App updates

The before and after of Android updates with file-by-file patching. Image: Google

The downside

There is one drawback however, as Hayden explained that the new process eats up a lot of processing power. This means that older phones may become noticeably slower during use when downloading.

That is why the new process is being limited to auto-updates overnight, so as to gain the benefit of limited use and, in some cases, being plugged in to charge.

“These changes are designed to ensure our community of over a billion Android users use as little data as possible for regular app updates,” Hayden said. “The best thing is that as a developer, you don’t need to do anything. You get these reductions to your update size for free!”

Google Play Store. Image: ymgerman/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic