Here's how Android 12 will make installing apps from third-party stores a breeze
As the antitrust lawsuit between Epic Games and Apple over the latter's control of the App Store on iOS and the app ecosystem comes to a close, Google has explained its plans to bring better support for third-party app stores with the arrival of Android 12, which was unveiled at Google I/O.
Last year, Google had responded to claims by Epic Games about how the Play Store platform and Apple's iOS caused issues for third-party app stores, by stating that its upcoming Android release would contain better support for app stores that did not ship with a particular device – for example, the Epic Games Store. The company has now explained how it plans to implement better support in its developer documentation, as spotted by XDA.
In order to better support third-party stores, Android 12 has made changes to the REQUEST_INSTALL_PACKAGES permission, which is used by all apps that want to install another Android Application Package (or APK), such as a file manager like Solid Explorer, or a browser like Chrome. With the changes that are made to the permission, app stores will be able to install apps with the same ease as the Play Store.
As of today, users who download a third-party store like F-Droid, or the Epic Games Store must first allow that store to “request the installation of packages” and then manually confirm the installation of each package. This is a security measure to prevent a malicious store from installing apps without notifying the user. However, on Android 12, third party apps will be able to access a new method called setRequireUserAction which will allow them to automatically install apps.
In order for this to work properly, Google has put some security measures in place. Any app store that wants to use this method will need to target Android 10 or higher, and request the new UPDATE_PACKAGES_WITHOUT_USER_ACTION permission. In addition, they will only be able to automatically update itself or install updates to a package it originally installed. For example, if you downloaded Fortnite from the Epic Games Store, it will be able to update automatically, but if you have the older version from the Play Store installed, you will be prompted to install the update manually the first time.
It's easy to see how this system could be misused by malicious actors, given how even a well-known third-party app store like APK Pure was recently infected with a malicious trojan and potentially infected users with older, insecure versions of Android. However, this addition is clearly Google's attempt of finding a way to placate Epic Games, which is currently doing battle with Apple in the United States. It remains to be seen how third-party stores work with Android 12, although it appears that the process of updating apps should be a lot easier than it is at the moment.