I’m not an application developer, so I’m not going to pretend to understand the intricacies of Android Package Files (APKs), which are officially downloaded from the Google Play Store on Android and Chrome OS devices. What I’m going to say, however, is Google’s recent announcement that it will switch to something called Android app bundles (.aab) instead of APKs could be the fatal blow to Microsoft’s recent efforts to allow Windows 11 users to run phone apps on their desktops. In doing so, Google may have just kept a very important line between the value proposition of Chromebooks and their competition.
Android app bundles are interesting – they are basically designed to break up the different parts of an Android app into individual files, delivering only those that you need to install for your specific device. This ensures that you don’t download a ton of unnecessary code that the developers packed in to make their application universal to all devices. This means that with a particular display type, process architecture (e.g. x86 or ARM), etc., you will only get the files that are necessary for those specifications. It helps keep the installation small and quick, and nobody gets a ton of extra code for no reason.
This is all fantastic for users who get their apps from the Google Play Store – especially Android and Chromebook owners – but for those who download apps onto their devices due to a lack of official availability, etc., this can be a massive problem. You see, you can’t just sideload an Android app bundle like an APK. It remains to be seen if something like the APK Mirror Installer will be able to serve up app bundles in the same way as it would for APKs When Windows 11 users try to sideload apps onto their PCs, they can face significant limitations in the near future.
Technically, .aab files cannot be installed directly by nature. Instead, .aab is a publishing format This includes all of a developer’s compiled app code and resources, but it’s up to the Google Play Store to generate and sign an APK. Without the Google Play Store installed on Windows 11 computers, .aab files can be completely useless for sideloading! What I’m saying is that when Google switched from the .apk format to .aab, it just ruined Microsoft’s efforts to make Chromebooks less relevant. Regardless of whether that was intentional or not, the only thing that Google has done is to protect itself from the Windows 11 intrusion and attempt to steal its user base with a fairly fresh paint job and Android app functionality.
Windows 11 users can install applications directly from the Amazon App Store, but as mentioned earlier earlier this week, In my not-so-humble opinion, Amazon’s offers are far inferior to the Google Play Store. Instead, it takes a curated approach, and that may be more appealing to some, but it also means leaving out a lot of popular apps and experiences, so consumers keep choosing Android and Chrome OS devices over Fire tablets for this reason.
Going forward, Google will require all apps submitted to the Play Store in early August this year to use the .aab format instead of the .apk format. Any apps that are already in the store can be left in their original format, giving Windows 11 users many experiences that they can install and use outside of the Amazon App Store It also means that almost all new applications and all updated applications will be inaccessible to users of Microsoft’s new operating system. There will likely be cases where app developers will continue to offer APKs through their own sites and sites like APK Mirror, but the majority will have to adapt and maintaining two fronts will prove to be more labor intensive and less beneficial.
Most regular users will never make sideloading apps a normal thing anyway, and newer apps and updates for older apps likely won’t be able to sideload on Windows 11, so it’s really a moot point. but I think Microsoft’s intentions in providing the ability to install apps on its operating system are twofold. Firstly, I would no doubt want to win back many of the casual users who have switched to Chromebooks in the past few yearsSecond, I think that integrating applications on laptops and desktops has become a useful and standardized proposition thanks to Google and Apple (until the PWAs fully take off), and Microsoft has been the weirdo so far, so that had to be fixed somehow.
Chrome OS is a lightweight, secure operating system that primarily focuses on web applications. So it will remain a huge market of regular computer users who prefer Windows to the beast (despite its new color), but even if Microsoft continues to offer the ability to install Android apps on desktops in years’ time, it can only be good for consumers when their experiences on competing devices are familiar and consistent. Again, the user is at the forefront. Still, I can’t help but think that Google knew what it was doing when it decided to move away from Android package files and towards app bundles.
Regardless, money will always be a driving factor for businesses, and when the line between the opposing products blurs or disappears, so does the unique value proposition. I’m not taking sides here, I’m just asserting the facts – that goes for Google as well as Microsoft. Apparently, app bundles are an app developer nightmare, and users would probably rather have full control over which apps they install on their Windows devices. So this change is great news for Google as a business and even Chromebook users. but probably not that great for many of us who use both operating systems.