Android Wear bug blocks paid apps due to encryption

July 8, 2014

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If you already have your hands on one of the earliest Android Wear smartwatches and are itching to get a hold of some dedicated Android Wear apps, you might want to hold of cashing out on a new paid app for a while. At the moment, installing paid Android Wear apps are silently failing due to an encryption mechanism in Android that is used to prevent paid apps from being pirated.

Android Police explains the relation between App Encryption and installing Android Wear apps. Since these smartwatches don't have Internet connections of their own, the only way to install apps on them would be to either sideload them, which isn't officially recommended, or to install via a smartphone. App developers will need to package Android Wear "mini apps" with a regular Android app. Once the regular app is installed, the Android installer will extract the Android Wear app and send it over to the smartwatch via Bluetooth to be installed. Sounds simple enough, until you get to the case of paid apps.

The problem here is that the App Encryption mechanism hasn't been updated to take into account the existence of Android Wear. Normally paid apps are encrypted with a device-specific key that protects the app from being cracked and pirated. However, the Android Wear installer doesn't know how to handle the case of extracting the Android Wear app from the encrypted paid app and simply aborts the installation process. As free apps don't get encrypted this way, they can be installed just fine.

At the moment, Google has not yet made a public statement about what looks like an oversight, but it is likely already aware of the issue. Although there are possible workarounds for developers to provide installable Android Wear apps and still get paid, it would probably be best to wait for an official fix, or at least a word, from Google and users are advised not to make any purchases just yet. It is somewhat good that this bug was exposed while Android Wear smartwatches are still shipping out, but Google should issue a fix as soon as possible before this becomes a PR nightmare.

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  • Renita Ghosh

    What crap! Now pay for app which wont even work! How annoying seriously! That’s why I put my trust on free apps – there’s this awesome chat app that I downloaded for free from google store recently – its has all the great qualities of whatsapp, snapchat and facebook without any of their privacy issues. The best thing is it is always free to use! And that’s a yay for me!

    • Juan Carlos Torres

      Yes, this is admittedly frustrating, though the blame can hardly be placed on the developers. It definitely looks like a major blunder on Google’s side, which they will hopefully fix ASAP.

      As for paid vs free, it’s a rather contentious issue. There are definitely free apps that are great and paid apps that suck but there’s really no general rule. You also have to consider that some developers rely on this kind of app development as their source of income. It would be nice if they can make it optional (donations, etc.), but until the day when such optional monetization become a stable source of income, paid apps may be the only option for some developers.

      • Renita Ghosh

        Yes, Juan. I guess as long as there’s a free app to get you what you want, its best for the end consumers not to get into the payment hassle.

    • Fred J

      Renita I totally agree with you. I hope you are talking about photo4tune because thats the only app I came accross recently has all the great qualities of whatsapp, snapchat and facebook without any of their privacy issues. Why should some pay for an app when such amazing free apps are available.

      • Renita Ghosh

        Yes, I was talking about Photo4Tune only …thanks for mentioning that. I have added it to the comment as well.

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