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article imagePlay Store saves your data by cutting app update file sizes

By James Walker     Jul 25, 2016 in Technology
Google has developed a method of compressing app downloads made through its Play Store that will heavily reduce the size of app updates. The new algorithm saves you data and speeds up downloads by compressing new content in patches.
In a post on the Android Developers Blog, Anthony Morris, SWE of Google Play, explained how the Play Store team has worked to reduce the size of downloads. Using a new algorithm called bsdiff, Google hopes to lower the data required for app installs and updates, while making data costs more obvious to users.
Android apps are packaged for download into APK files. When an update is issued, the Play Store checks the new APK file and identifies the changes. Only the modified components are then downloaded and merged with the existing files on your phone. This process is compatible with approximately 98% of all app updates.
Even with this mechanism, Android apps often end up with larger download sizes than their iOS counterparts though. The new algorithm will help to improve this. It is able to further reduce app update sizes by up to 50 percent or more, compared to the previous version. When applied to the Google Chrome browser, the algorithm reduced a 22.8MB update down to 12.9MB.
Bsdiff works by more efficiently detecting changes in native code libraries common to Android apps. It is able to use the ways in which compiled native code changes between versions to condense the size of these libraries. The result is an average 5 percent decrease in size over the last version.
Another change to the Play Store will particularly benefit games. Many large games have a small initial download but then stop to retrieve gigabytes of files when they're first launched. These "APK Expansion Files" allow developers to circumvent the restrictions on APK file sizes by retrieving up to 2GB of data after the main app installation completes.
APK Expansion Files are now covered by Google's change detection and data compression algorithms. The company estimated this will result in the download size of initial installations being reduced by 12 percent. Future updates will see a reduction as high as 65 percent, saving significant amounts of data.
The final improvement goes to the user interface of the Play Store. It now displays clearer information about app file sizes, including the exact download size. Once you've installed an app, the Store will display the download size of the next update, letting you see in advance how much data it will use.
"Google Play continues to grow rapidly, as Android users installed over 65 billion apps in the last year from the Google Play Store. We’re also seeing developers move to update their apps more frequently to push great new content, patch security vulnerabilities, and iterate quickly on user feedback," said Google. "However, many users are sensitive to the amount of data they use, especially if they are not on Wi-Fi. Google Play is investing in improvements to reduce the data that needs to be transferred for app installs and updates, while making data cost more transparent to users."
The changes will benefit Android users in several ways. People on limited data plans with small amounts of internal storage will feel the greatest effects. For this group of users, any reduction in app download size can decide whether they're going to install an update or not.
The new features are available now. The bsdiff algorithm will be applied automatically to all apps but it will be up to developers to optimise their APKs for compression. The algorithm works best if the app is small to begin with, requiring developers cut unnecessary bloat and unused files.
More about Google, Android, play store, google play, Apps
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