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Multiple APKs: More Freedom or More Headaches?

As promised back in May, multiple APK support has now arrived in the Android Market. Originally said to be launching in June, the actual arrival took a bit longer, it seems. The new publishing option will allow developers to maintain separate copies of their apps for different devices, whether those are tablets, phones, TVs or otherwise. Developers can also use this feature to offer apps optimized for different chipsets or OS platform versions.

At this year’s Google I/O conference in San Francisco, Eric Chu, Mobile Platforms Program Manager at Google, told developers that the company will launch multiple APK support in June 2011. This was the same conference where Google announced that there were currently 310 different types of Android devices in the world. In other words, there’s a lot to code for.

While this change is beneficial to developers who want to offer users the option to install both the tablet and the phone version of an app without having to purchase it twice, it can also be used to offer more narrowly targeted variations, like phone-specific apps. Or even, heaven forbid, phone-specific apps by Android OS version.

Freedom or Fragmentation?

The introduction of the feature is both a blessing and curse, in many ways. It indicates that Android, as a platform, is so varied that in some cases, one APK won’t work on all phones, much less all devices. For some developers with high-performing applications, they will may even go so far as to develop apps optimized for different GPUs.

But is this a fragmentation problem or the end result of an open platform? Probably both.

And how much of this problem will be solved, at least on the software side, by the forthcoming “Ice Cream Sandwich” Android OS, which aims to merge Gingerbread and Honeycomb at last? We don’t know.

In the meantime, develoeprs can upload their multiple APKs and the Market will automatically select the appropriate version for the cusotmer. The product listing will aggregate the app details, ratings and comments across the APKs, however, which frankly seems a little unfair, or at least troublesome. One bad, crash-prone APK out of several uploaded could lead to overwhelming negative reviews and down ratings – something developers should be aware of before jumping to upload experimental versions.

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