Google just cut app update sizes by 65% – but there’s a catch

Many users turn off the app auto update that is enabled by default, the primary reason being that no one on a limited data plan wants their precious data being wasted or updates that don’t necessarily bring forth much in terms of features or looks. 

This goes a step further if you have large games installed and holds true with not just your initial update of a big game, but also the subsequent updates that games and apps get that also are big. At the same time, not updating apps means efforts made to improve your experience have been lost until you remember to go look and see if there’s an update for you the next time you’re on Wi-Fi.

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Google has been figuring out ways to reduce update sizes over the past four years or so and on Tuesday, the company announced it has devised a way to reduce app updates by 65 percent. Google initially worked on download sizes by improving the packaging and compression algorithm for APK files not too long ago. This did help to a certain extent but the company’s new improvements they announced today are by far much better.

Android APKs are essentially ZIP archives with a number of special conventions. The contents of such archives are compressed using a technology called Deflate. That makes the archive smaller, but it also makes it very difficult to identify changes from one version to the next. Even a small change can make the compressed archive look completely different. The new improvements come in the form of file-by-file patching. I’m sure you can already guess on how this is a very good thing, especially with regards to Android games and their updates. The new approach makes it possible to find the changes and integrate them with the APK on your device.

Google listed several recent updates for popular appsas an example to show how much data is saved with file-by-file patching :

Application

Original Size

Previous (BSDiff) Patch Size

(% vs original)

File-by-File Patch Size (% vs original)

Farm Heroes Super Saga

71.1 MB

13.4 MB (-81%)

8.0 MB (-89%)

Google Maps

32.7 MB

17.5 MB (-46%)

9.6 MB (-71%)

Gmail

17.8 MB

7.6 MB (-57%)

7.3 MB (-59%)

Google TTS

18.9 MB

17.2 MB (-9%)

13.1 MB (-31%)

Kindle

52.4 MB

19.1 MB (-64%)

8.4 MB (-84%)

Netflix

16.2 MB

7.7 MB (-52%)

1.2 MB (-92%)

There is a downside to this method — it takes longer for your phone to process. In fact, by cutting the patch size in half, it will probably double the amount of time it takes to install the update and it is a lot harder for older devices to handle the updates.

Because of the fact that it takes longer, Google is not implementing the change for all apps just yet — for now, only auto-updates that take place in the background will use the new update method.

Along with this change, Google will be rolling out the ability to see the size of an update within the Google Play description for it. This is something many people have been wanting anyways. If you’re a developer and want to check how this all works, you can read up on it over on the Android Developers Blog.

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