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AAB and APK files are fairly common terms anyone in the mobile app world would be aware of.

The Android ecosystem is filled with different kinds of buzzwords alluding to different things. AAB and APK files are generally associated with the installation process of an app on an Android device.

Both files are associated with app installation and serve the same purpose. An interesting exercise would be to study the differences between the two files.

The following sections compare both AABs and APKs files in great detail. Furthermore, the penultimate section also provides answers on why those using a free online app maker should know the basic differences between AABs and APKs.

Android Application Package (APKs)

APKs are a type of file that is recognized only by an Android system. An APK file basically contains all the necessary app resources needed to install an app on an Android device.

It is not wrong to think of APK files as essentially compressed zip files. They contain all the app files and code in their compressed form. In addition, APK files also contain an app certificate which helps with app recognition on the Google Play Store.

This compressed app file can only be extracted on an Android system. No other operating system can open an APK file. The only way to open an APK file on any other operating system besides Android is if such a system were to adopt the architecture of Android.

Many users will be familiar with downloading APK files from app stores besides the Google Play Store. These files execute with a simple tap as they’re ready to be extracted and installed.

Android Application Bundles (AABs)

AABs are a more recent addition to the Android system. They are now the official app format used on the Google Play Store. There are a number of reasons AABs are preferred over APKs now. More of this will be discussed in later sections.

According to official Android documentation, AABs are an app publishing format which contain all the necessary app files and codes. However, they hand over the process of APK generation and signing in to the Play Store.

Here’s a visual representation of the contents of a typical AAB file –

Source: Android documentation 

The orange part in the diagram above along with the different asset packs makes up a typical APK file. Dynamic feature packs are not part of an APK file.

Differences between APKs and AABs

The main difference between APKs and AABs comes down to the presence of asset packs and dynamic features. The following sections explain this difference-

Asset Packs

Asset packs essentially contain information about the different features to be displayed based on the device in which the app is installed. APK files by default contain all the available asset packs.

This means an APK file on your device will contain asset packs for other devices. This is unnecessary information which takes up a lot of space on a device.

AABs, on the other hand, specifically choose the asset packs essential for a device. This means unnecessary asset packs do not make it to the device if an AAB file is used for app installation

Dynamic features

Dynamic features refer to resources which are not essential to the basic functioning of the app. They’re not added to the device during app installation.

When app users request specific features or functions, the dynamic features are installed and provided to the user. This makes the overall installation process faster and enhances storage efficiency.

Advantages of using AABs over APKs

Official Android documentation lays out some of the key reasons AABs are preferable to APKs. The following sections cover some of the key reasons users must choose AABs over APKs.

Lower app churn

Users on average uninstall apps installed using APKs more than those using AABs. The main reason for doing so is size. APKs tend to contain a lot of code which is not essential for the functioning of app on a given device.

The lack of dynamic features in an APK file also means reduction in app performance. Developers eventually have to add dynamic features to the main code to combat this problem which eventually leads to increase in file size.

The simple solution here is using AAB files and overcoming the problem.

Size reduction

AAB files are at least 35% smaller than APKs. This means it takes a much shorter time to install apps with AABs.

Efficiency achieved through asset packs and dynamic features in AABs is the main cause for size reduction. Other factors like loading device information directly from the Play Store leads to elimination of problems like presence of uncompressed libraries.

Smaller size brings many other associated advantages like higher rate of update installation, faster downloads, and enhanced conversion rate. Users are less likely to run away from app installation due to the size of the app.

Why should users of mobile app builders know more about this?

Why should those using app builders and learning how to convert WordPress website to Android app know more about AABs and APKs? The same question is valid for anyone using DIY app makers to create mobile apps with or without their websites.

The answer is simple. Entrepreneurs and companies with an app in the market must know their industry inside out.

APKs were the prime Android file type until 2018. When this change happened, those aware about the advantages of AABs quickly adapted. Those who were not aware continued using APKs and still do. This means they continue to suffer the disadvantages an APK file brings along.

It is vital for anyone serious about app success to know the basic changes that happen in the industry. Adapting to these changes can be the difference between beating a competitor and losing out.

In conclusion

APKs and AABs are the two prime file types used in the Android space. This piece provides a complete breakdown of both these file types. The latter section also provides the importance of knowing the difference between AABs and APKs for those using app builders. If you’re about to publish a WordPress or WooCommerce app for Android, you can’t simply ignore technicalities of AABs and APKs. This knowledge can prove useful in making an app a success.

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