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Play Console's new in-app update mechanism: no code changes required

Android Mar 9, 2024

For Android developers, keeping users on the latest version of our apps has always been a balancing act. It's fine for users to update at their own pace, but sometimes there are critical bugs or new features that require users to update to the latest version as soon as possible.

Traditionally, this meant manually implementing update logic using the Play In-App Update Library. It involved writing code to check for updates, handling the communication with the user, and then nudging users to install.

Play Console has come to the rescue with a built-in feature for prompting updates. This is a game-changer that significantly improves our lives as developers. The feature is super useful, but it's hidden in a small menu after you select a specific AAB. All you need to do is go into the "Releases" or "App bundle explorer" pages, select the older version that you want the prompt to appear, and select the "Recovery tools" menu from the upper right. That's it, the rest will be handled automatically and Play Console even provides stats for the update process. In the "App bundle explorer" page you can see the installed base of each older version in production to decide in which versions the prompt should appear.

The feature is super useful, but it's "hidden" in a small menu after you select a specific AAB

With this Play Console's feature, we can remove all that manual update code from our apps that handle emergency app updates. Less code translates to less maintenance and potentially fewer bugs (and potentially happier developers since deleting code is a joy).

While this feature is a huge win, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Limited Control: You don't get to choose exactly when the prompt appears - it will always be on launch.
  • Granular Targeting (with a Twist): You need to select which specific AAB the prompt will appear, but for wider targeting across multiple versions, you'll need to use the Play Developer API.
  • AAB Format Required: This feature only works with apps published in the Android App Bundle (AAB) format. Thankfully, AAB is quickly becoming the standard, so this shouldn't be a major hurdle.

Overall, Play Console's new update prompt feature is a major feature for Android developers. It streamlines the update process in emergency update situations (and more) and reduces code burden from developers. While there are some limitations, the benefits far outweigh them.

Happy coding!


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