Today Google announced that it’s pushing a significant update to the developer-facing side of Android Market, and it’s one that consumers will benefit from too: Android Market will now allow developers to distribute multiple APKs (the filetype Android uses for applications) that will all be considered the same app, at least as the marketplace is concerned.
Yes, that sounds mundane, but it’s important. Consider this: right now, if you ran a query for “Fruit Ninja” from an Android tablet, you’d have the option to download either the ‘regular’ Fruit Ninja or Fruit Ninja THD, a version that’s been optimized for the Tegra processor found in most Android tablets to date. Obviously you’d want the latter — but then if you went to play the same game on your phone, you’d have to purchase the regular version.
This update fixes that: Halfbrick Studios (the company behind Fruit Ninja) can now list the game once in Android Market, and Google will send the optimal version to whatever device you’re downloading it from.
Of course, Google has always encouraged developers to make sure a single APK works across all Android devices. Menus are supposed to adapt to various screen sizes, images are supposed to scale nicely, and so on. But there are some instances where this doesn’t make sense — a game might only want to include high-res textures for larger screen sizes, for example. Another use case: if a developer implements features that require the newest version of the Android OS, they can now roll that out, while still letting users on older devices access the old version. And under this system developers will be able to consolidate all of their user reviews under one application as opposed to having them spread across multiple mobile and ‘HD’ versions.
Of course, some developers may prefer to ignore the new feature and prompt users to purchase different versions of their apps for different devices. This wouldn’t necessarily be motivated by greed, either — some developers build completely new apps for different form factors, which in some cases warrant separate purchases.
Incidentally, as I wrote this I received an email alert that Halfbrick is now selling a free version of Fruit Ninja (I’m guessing it’s taking advantage of this new feature).