Google Android has had a bit of a mixed history with microSD cards. When the first Android phones hit the market, one of the things that helped set them apart from Apple’s iPhone was that you could insert a microSD card to increase your storage (or view pictures from your camera, or whatever).
But over the past few years Google has made several changes to the way Android deal with external storage that have limited the ability of Android apps to actually write data to removable storage such as a microSD card.
Now it looks like Google is making some changes that could make microSD cards a lot more useful.
Basically the changes mean that apps can write data not only to specific directories on a microSD, but also to the entire SD card. Users will be asked whether to grant access to the top-level of an SD card the first time an app requests permission. Once you’ve made your choice you won’t ever have to do it again.
There’s also a new way for apps to create an app-specific directory, but allow other apps to access data from within that folder.
If you’re wondering why you’d want to let an app access all the data on your microSD card, think about camera, gallery, or photo editing apps. You could use any camera app to snap a photo and know that you can use any image editing app to touch up the photo because both could access files stored in shared directories.
There are a few things to keep in mind about the new Android 5.0 removable storage tools:
- The new methods for accessing SD cards require Android 5.0, so don’t expect to see any major changes for apps running on Android 4.4 or earlier.
- It’ll be up to third-party developers to tap into these new tools, so don’t expect all Android 5.0 apps to take advantage of the improved SD card read/write methods right away.
- Early adopters of Android 5.0 probably won’t get access to the new features at all, since the Nexus 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, and 10 don’t have microSD card slots (although technically I suppose you could plug in a USB flash drive with a microUSB adapter… but you probably wouldn’t want to leave one plugged in all the time).
- You still can’t actually install apps to an SD card. Apps can write data to an SD card to store photos, videos, or other large files that you don’t want cluttering up your primary storage. But apps are installed on your built-in storage.