Android 12 will make third-party app stores work more seamlessly

One of Android's biggest strengths as well as one of its perceived weaknesses is its openness, especially in terms of installing apps. While Google pushes its own Play Store and API by offering exclusive features to entice developers and users, it still leaves the door open for third-party app stores and even individual APKs to be installed. That isn't a straightforward process, however, even if you're trying to install from an app store. With Android 12, Google is making that more streamlined so that third-party app stores will behave almost like Google Play Store.

Whether you install an individual APK or via some third-party repository like F-Droid, you will have to agree to install the app first, presuming the source of the app, be it a browser or a file manager, has permission to install apps. That's true even when updating an app, which isn't how Android users experience things when installing or updating from Google Play Store.

On the one hand, that does force users to pause and think about whether they should proceed or not. It's a bit of an arbitrary security measure that doesn't really always work (just ask Windows users) and ruins the experience for those installing from third-party app stores that expect a more straightforward and streamlined process just like on Google Play Store. Google promised that it would make support for third-party app stores better and it seems that it will start with Android 12.

XDA discovered the changes not in Google's public announcements but in the updated developer documentation for the next release of Android. Under a very specific set of circumstances, an app like an app store will no longer require user interaction to install or update apps. Of course, the app store needs to have permissions to sideload apps in the first place, at which point it is the user's responsibility should their system's security gets compromised.

For years, Google seemed to be tightening the noose on third-party app stores and sideloading APKs and this sudden U-turn almost sounds surprising. That said, that may have been prompted by the recent legal battle between Epic Games and Apple over Fortnite and app store monopolies. Although not as exclusive, Google might be covering its bases to make sure any accusation of monopoly won't stand in court.