The minutia of how an app update gets loaded onto your smartphone may not be terribly interesting, but the impact on how much data it takes to upgrade features and change the interface is pretty important, despite carriers’ efforts to make data costs less of a problem and manufacturers’ efforts to include more storage on their devices.
In July, Google Play developers were able to implement a compression technique called “Deflate” that was able to help app makers drive down update sizes to their users. The delta algorithm was the latest in a years-long drive to be able to detect changes between old and new APKs and then deliver only the changes to the user.
This time around, the Google Play store is introducing File-by-file patching. It’s a technique that takes the updated APK from the app publisher, uncompresses it to look for changed data — a more efficient way of looking for the delta — and then sends just that data as an update to users with the app installed.
Bringing down patch sizes by 59 percent in the case of Gmail, 89 percent for Farm Heroes Super Saga and a whopping 92 percent for Netflix definitely leaves an impression on us.
There are a couple of drawbacks, though, that prevent everyone from taking advantage of file-by-file patching. One of them is that users must have the same version of the app installed as the one on the Play Store in order to make sure that the minimal changes are the proper changes to make. Second, it’ll require that your phone handle the recompression of the delta, thus relying on its horsepower — top-end phones from 2015 will take a second to compress a megabyte of data.
Those reasons are why Google is keeping this new patch method to automatic updates. Those take place when you’re likely not going to be using your phone.
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