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.

You can read more about the new features in the Android 5.0 developer portal, or check out Android Police for a plain English explanation of what all the developer-centric language means.


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9 replies on “Android 5.0 offers devs better access to SD cards”

  1. Android 5.0 support for microSD cards will even more distance Android to Iphone and Windows in smartphones.

  2. About time. Lots of people looking for alternatives to stinking Greedle already, with their anti-microSD tricks. Any company wanting to make a Nexus device is forced NOT to include a microSD card slot, cause Greedle would like to force you into their cloud.

    1. Greedle? Didn’t he shoot first in Stars Wars IV: Special Edition? 🙂

      Seriously though, I agree. If I wanted to be locked in to onboard storage, then I’d go with Apple… they’re the experts.

  3. Quit playing games with sd cards. Period.
    Allow access and stop with the BS mumbo jumbo.
    it’s embarrassing

  4. This is where Android is behind window 8.1 phone os, I can install the whole app into window phone Sd card and when I remove sd card the phone still function just without those apps installed. So imagine you have one SD card for work with its accompanies apps and one for personal, kids, vacation this is just a rough example but its really cool. With class 10 and above its fast enough now to read/write so I am hoping I will see Android adopt it in the near future since I do love Android OS best but still envy window phone in that regard.

    1. yeah but letting Microsoft onto my phone is out of the question :p

      I know what they do once they get you. Widely reported Windows Mobile bugs not fixed for a decade, cause they figured they had the market sewn up at 36% and didn’t expect any further growth.

  5. I posted a review of the Facebook app asking them why if we can use Facebook on our pcs without giving them permission to root around in our files and folders, do they then need to be able to do so on our phones? Sad to say I posted that twice on their app page and twice it got deleted. I’m an Android user and always will be but the fact that Apple sets up their permissions on a pick and choose basis is the way all apps should have to request permissions. I’m not one of those scared people who worries if Facebook and other apps are reading my text messages and rooting around through my photos, because they are.. I just believe these “Oh we need permission to look at this and that because of our cool new feature that you’ll never use needs it” is just a bit too intrusive. But I also just like to rant so please don’t get too upset at me haha.

    1. Because the PC doesn’t have app level security; any program you (or your admin) install can at a minimum read every file owned by your account and probably read almost any file on the PC. In many cases they can even read network shares and look at files owned by other users… and almost every application these days will phone home. Feel safe?

      And no, this isn’t just slagging Windows. UNIX (and OS X is a certified UNIX), Linux, etc. all have the same security model of trusting applications too much for modern use. In the ‘app’ world the apps are at least as hostile as popup ads on webpages, rogue java embeds, etc. and trending toward outright malware. Android and iOS treat them as the scum they are. locking them as tightly as possible until they have to beg you for an override.

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