Google's new developer tool may help your old phone last longer

Android 13 held in hand
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Android 13 has been out for a while now — in fact, the operating system has already had several updates. While it wasn’t a massive step forward, Google's new mobile operating system did bring some improvements to permissions, notifications, user interface and more. The operating system has even made its way onto some older devices, including the Samsung Galaxy S21.

Now, certain features of Android 13 could be coming to older phones even if those phones cannot run the new operating system. According to a blog post from Google, the company is opening up access to certain Android features to developers through what it calls an “Extension SDK” (software developer kit). 

How does the Extension SDK work? 

This is where things get a little complicated. The way this Extension SDK works is that it allows developers to take “Modular System Components” (i.e. select features) [ex] from a version of Android — in this case Android 13 — and use them in apps designed for older versions of Android. 

Google uses the PhotoPicker feature from Android 13 as an example in their blog post. With this Extension SDK, an app developer could take the PhotoPicker API that was built for Android 13 and utilize it in an Android 11 or Android 12 version of its app. While this means that users won’t get these features in every app, developers don’t have to leave out older operating systems when developing aspects of their apps. This keeps older versions of Android viable longer, as certain features can now be introduced to older operating systems without requiring massive updates to the OS. 

Android 13 PhotoPicker in use

(Image credit: Google)

Aside from PhotoPicker, which allows users to give apps permission to access only select photos rather than their entire photo library, there are a couple of other features that we have seen Google make through modular updates rather than full Android OS updates. One such feature is the ability to add your driver’s license to your Google Wallet, something that is available on devices running Android 8 or newer. 

Certain future features could also benefit from modular updates like Privacy Sandbox. This feature is currently limited to the desktop version of Chrome and allows you to control some aspects of how your online data is tracked. However, a beta of the feature is coming to Android, and Google plans to use Modular System Components to make Privacy Sandbox easier to integrate into Android 13 applications. While this feature is not expected to trickle down to older versions of Android, making it a modular component could allow Google to continue to update the feature long after it’s moved on from Android 13.

If this all sounds complicated, you’re not wrong — it is. But the good news is that these complications aren’t something users need to worry about. Leave the worrying to the app developers instead. All Android phone users really need to know is that this is a good thing that will allow their older operating system to stay usable longer, and even get the occasional feature update they previously would have missed. If that means you can keep an otherwise totally workable device longer, then that’s a win for everyone. 

Malcolm McMillan
Senior Streaming Writer

Malcolm McMillan is a senior writer for Tom's Guide, covering all the latest in streaming TV shows and movies. That means news, analysis, recommendations, reviews and more for just about anything you can watch, including sports! If it can be seen on a screen, he can write about it. Previously, Malcolm had been a staff writer for Tom's Guide for over a year, with a focus on artificial intelligence (AI), A/V tech and VR headsets.

Before writing for Tom's Guide, Malcolm worked as a fantasy football analyst writing for several sites and also had a brief stint working for Microsoft selling laptops, Xbox products and even the ill-fated Windows phone. He is passionate about video games and sports, though both cause him to yell at the TV frequently. He proudly sports many tattoos, including an Arsenal tattoo, in honor of the team that causes him to yell at the TV the most.