Android 14 could help third-party app stores better compete with Google Play

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While Android has always given users the option to use third-party app stores, Android 14 might be about to help close the gap between third parties and the Google Play Store. That’s according to Android 14 API documentation uncovered by XDA’s Mishaal Rahman.

This reveal comes in the wake of accusations of anti-competitive practices by both Apple and Google, and increased scrutiny by regulatory bodies as a result. But while Apple may have resisted attempts to allow third-party app stores on iPhone, Google may just go in the other direction — and offer third-party app stores access to features that were previously exclusive to Google Play.

Android 12 previously gave third-party app stores the ability to send out automatic app updates, without any user input. A new Android 14 API seems to be refining this process somewhat, ensuring certain conditions are met before that update can be installed. 

The short of it is that an update won’t interrupt your experience, and this API allows an app store to check if the app is in use or on screen. So your experience won’t be interrupted because the Amazon App Store decided your Kindle app needed to update right away. 

It looks like app stores will be able to set their own update criteria, but the documentation suggests using the preset conditions. Android has been offering automatic app updates for over a decade now, and it's been working out pretty well so far, so other developers would be wise to pay attention.

Another API will allow an app store to claim an app when you install it on your phone, and ensure it's the only source of future updates. That means you won't be getting automatic updates from a variety of places who may have different security and vetting processes. That includes Google Play, which you may have been hoping to avoid for one reason or another.

Finally, there will be an option for third parties to prompt users for approval before updates happen. XDA speculates that this could prove useful in the event that app permissions change, letting users agree or reject whatever the new version of the app is asking for.

There's no guarantee that these features will make it to the stable version of Android 14, when the system is locked in place this coming June. However, it does look as though Google may be easing up on third parties a little bit.

These are relatively small changes in the grand scheme of things, but they should offer third-party app stores a little more feature parity with Google Play. That’s a benefit for users who prefer to get apps from non-Google sources, and means the app stores themselves can better compete with Google’s dominant position. 

Whether these changes will do much good in practice is another matter entirely. But hey, it’s something Google can show to regulators if it ever tries to argue against anti-competitive accusations.

Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.