New Android releases always bring exciting new features to the table, but every once in a while, a beloved feature gets reworked or removed altogether. That’s no different for Android 11, currently still stuck on Developer Preview 4. As filed on Google’s issue tracker, the new version of Android makes it less convenient to grant apps the permission to install APKs and requires a restart of the application in question. The behavior is related to the new mandatory Scoped Storage system.
On Android 10 and below, the process was as simple as it could be: When you want to install an APK from a browser or another app like our own APKMirror Installer, you would be asked to grant the install permission. Once you flipped the switch and hit the back button or gesture, you’re taken right back to where you were before, with a dialog asking if you’d like to install the APK you’ve previously selected. As you can see in the screenshots below, the app you’ve just granted the permission remains in view and is waiting for you where you left off before it sent you to the dialog.
The install process on Android 10 takes you right back to where you were before; no app restart necessary.
This behavior has changed on Android 11. As disgruntled testers report on Google’s issue tracker, the install dialog still pops up after you’ve granted the permission, but the app itself is gone — you’ll see your launcher in the background. When you open the application in question again, you’ll notice that it’s fully reloaded, with the potential for lost input or other yet-to-be cached data, as it was killed by the system. That’s new — Android usually only force-quits apps when you revoke permissions in order to hinder them from breaking, not when you grant them.
Behavior on Android 11: Note the disappearing app, throwing the user back to the launcher instead.
Googlers seem rather tone-deaf on the issue tracker, initially only stating that “this is in fact working as intended.” Only after commenters kept digging in, expressing how this could break apps that don’t expect to be force-stopped in the middle of an operation, Google provided further comments, making clear that the change is related to the new Scoped Storage file management:
The way the filesystem and storage mounts are setup in Android R has changed significantly. When an app starts without this permission, it gets a view of the filesystem that doesn’t allow writing to certain directories (eg Android/obb). Once the app has been granted this permission, that view is no longer accurate, and needs to be updated to a view that allows the app to write to certain directories. With the way the filesystem has been setup in R, changing that view on the fly is not possible. As mentioned in comment #16, we’re evaluating internally. I’m just providing additional details why this doesn’t work the way it did on Q.
While Scoped Storage will benefit security and privacy, the new system apparently leads to more significant changes than anticipated. Let’s hope the company works out a solution that doesn’t require force-quitting apps to change their read/write permissions, but I wouldn’t be surprised if comfortable sideloading support isn’t too high on Google’s priorities, especially since the permission only needs to be granted once per app, thus ideally requiring a force-stop only once per application.