Google makes Android app updates even smaller


When you update apps over a cellular network you go through your data plan more quickly -- and there is nothing that you can do about that. However, Google has found a way to make sure that Android users reach their data limit later rather than sooner.

Using the File-By-File patching technique, Google says that it is able to reduce the size of update files by an average of 65 percent. And, in some cases, the reduction can even exceed 90 percent. But how much data can you actually expect to save?

First, what is File-by-File patching? Basically, it is a more efficient form of compression that Google says will only be used for auto-updates for the time being. "This ensures that users won't have to wait any longer than usual for an update to finish when manually updating an app", explains Google.

But compression is not new. As Google said earlier this year, when you update an app you do not download the whole app but rather the patch that brings it to the most-recent version, which is compressed using BSDiff, as is the case with the vast majority (98 percent) of the apps on Google Play.

And those patches were already quite small, based on the information that Google provides, so you should not expect to see a massive difference in the amount of data that app updates will require. (To come up with the impressive differences noted in the second paragraph, Google compares the size of the update files with the full size of the apps and not the BSDiff compressed files users can still get.)

Google has provided a couple of examples to show the difference between the full size of the app, the previous patch size, and the patch size using File-by-File patching. The delta between the second and third sizes is what matters here, and it may not as big as you might expect.

For instance, a Farm Heroes Super Saga update that previously came in at 13.4MB is now only 8MB in size. That is a difference of just eight percentage points. However, if you look at Netflix, an update previously needed 7.7MB, now it requires just 1.2MB -- a massive 40 percentage points less.

Other examples like Gmail, Google Maps and Kindle come somewhere in between. Google specifically notes that these updates make use of File-by-File patching only when you do not manually trigger them. In that case, the older BSDiff method is used.

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