Android app reviews may slow to over a week due to COVID-19 impacts, Google warns developers

Google this week warned Android developers that Play Store app review times will be much longer than normal due to the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Developers should expect app reviews to take up to a week or even longer, the company informed its community by way of an alert on the Google Play Console.

This slowdown in moderation efforts isn’t something that’s just impacting Google Play.

Yesterday, YouTube announced it would more heavily rely on its automated systems during this time, which meant more videos will likely be taken down by machine learning-powered systems before they received a review from a human moderator.

In both cases, the slowdowns are related to the reduced in-office staffing levels — a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is impacting employee scheduling at Google and elsewhere.

Up until now, Google Play had a fairly quick app review process.

For years, the company differentiated its Play Store from Apple’s App Store by allowing developers to publish without a lengthy review. This, of course, led to issues as the store was over-filled with low-quality and sometimes even malicious apps. In 2015, Google revealed it had begun to utilize an internal team of reviewers to analyze apps for policy violations prior to publication.

Despite the change in process, apps were being approved within hours instead of days, Google said at the time.

That changed last year, however, as the company implemented a more stringent review. It then began to advise developers to plan for review times of at least three days between submission and the app going live. But the length was reduced for established, trusted developers who continued to see faster reviews, Google had noted.

Review times of a week or even longer are unprecedented, much like the COVID-19 crisis itself.

News of the increased app reviews was first reported by Android Police.

A Google spokesperson confirmed the delay to TechCrunch, saying: “Due to adjusted work schedules at this time, we are currently experiencing longer than usual review times. While the situation is currently evolving, app review times may fluctuate, and may take 7 days or longer.”

The delay is also confirmed in the Play Console’s Help documentation.

Google launches the first developer preview of Android 11

With the days of desert-themed releases officially behind it, Google today announced the first developer preview of Android 11, which is now available as system images for Google’s own Pixel devices, starting with the Pixel 2.

As of now, there is no way to install the updates over the air. That’s usually something the company makes available at a later stage. These first releases aren’t meant for regular users anyway. Instead, they are a way for developers to test their applications and get a head start on making use of the latest features in the operating system.

With Android 11 we’re keeping our focus on helping users take advantage of the latest innovations, while continuing to keep privacy and security a top priority,” writes Google VP of Engineering Dave Burke. “We’ve added multiple new features to help users manage access to sensitive data and files, and we’ve hardened critical areas of the platform to keep the OS resilient and secure. For developers, Android 11 has a ton of new capabilities for your apps, like enhancements for foldables and 5G, call-screening APIs, new media and camera capabilities, machine learning, and more.”

Unlike some of Google’s previous early previews, this first version of Android 11 does actually bring quite a few new features to the table. As Burke noted, there are some obligatory 5G features like a new bandwidth estimate API, for example, as well as a new API that checks whether a connection is unmetered so apps can play higher-resolution video, for example.

With Android 11, Google is also expanding its Project Mainline lineup of updatable modules from 10 to 22. With this, Google is able to update critical parts of the operating system without having to rely on the device manufacturers to release a full OS update. Users simply install these updates through the Google Play infrastructure.

Users will be happy to see that Android 11 will feature native support for waterfall screens that cover a device’s edges, using a new API that helps developers manage interactions near those edges.

Also new are some features that developers can use to handle conversational experiences, including a dedicated conversation section in the notification shade, as well as a new chat bubbles API and the ability to insert images into replies you want to send from the notifications pane.

Unsurprisingly, Google is adding a number of new privacy and security features to Android 11, too. These include one-time permissions for sensitive types of data, as well as updates to how the OS handles data on external storage, which it first previewed last year.

As for security, Google is expanding its support for biometrics and adding different levels of granularity (strong, weak and device credential), in addition to the usual hardening of the platform you would expect from a new release.

There are plenty of other smaller updates as well, including some that are specifically meant to make running machine learning applications easier, but Google specifically highlights the fact that Android 11 will also bring a couple of new features to the OS that will help IT manage corporate devices with enhanced work profiles.

This first developer preview of Android 11 is launching about a month earlier than previous releases, so Google is giving itself a bit more time to get the OS ready for a wider launch. Currently, the release schedule calls for monthly developer preview releases until April, followed by three betas and a final release in Q3 2020.