The ability to sideload apps is one of Android’s strongest points. The next iteration of the OS will improve it further, Android 14 will improve support for third-party app stores.
Current state of updating apps from other sources
Most Android users download apps from the Google Play Store. This also applies to iOS apps, iPhone has the App Store, and has given both Google and Apple complete dominance over the mobile app market eco-system. This has drawn scrutiny from antitrust regulators in the European Union. The EU passed a law in the Digital Markets Act last year, to force gatekeepers, i.e. the major controllers of the operating system to allow users to download and install apps from other sources, aka third party markets.
Google and Apple have to comply with this law if they want to operate their business in the EU. The good news is that users worldwide will benefit from these changes. iPhone users will soon be able to sideload apps from third-party app stores. While Android already allows this, it will gain some improvements because of this rule.
Android 14 will improve support for third-party app stores
When you download and install an APK from a website or a third-party app store like F-Droid, you may have noticed that the app could be updated via the Google Play Store even though it wasn’t where you originally got it from. The first developer preview of Android 14 was released last week, the new OS has a new API that will allow third-party app stores to claim ownership of selected apps, to prevent them from being updated via other means, e.g. Google Play. The permission will be set when an app is installed, granting the third-party app store ownership of the app, i.e. allows it to become the primary source for updates.
Another way how Android 14 will improve support for third-party app stores is by allowing them to check whether an app is currently being interacted with by the user, and delay the app from being updated automatically. Android 12 already supports this, but the app stores need to rely on specific permissions, the new method, dubbed as “gentle updates”, will use permissions that are less sensitive, for a better experience.
Third-party app stores can make use of another API, to prompt the user whether apps can be updated during that session, instead of silently updating it in the background. XDA points out that this could have other advantages, such as notifying the user that an app needs new permissions