Facebook is testing a new way for Android users to receive app updates without going through the Google Play store.
Some Android users are now receiving “silent updates,” which download in the background while a user is connected over Wi-Fi. Instead of users receiving a notification about a new app version through Google Play, the Facebook app downloads its update automatically and then prompts users to install it. A number of users report that the prompts are persistent and a user’s phone will beep or buzz until the update is installed.
Facebook says the silent updates are a way to “make sure everyone is using the best version of our app.”
Liliputing first reported that the new version of Facebook for Android included a new permission to “download files without notification,” which would give it a way to bypass Google Play and give users a way to install updates directly from Facebook. However, many users initially worried that the unfamiliar message from Facebook was actually malware and raised questions in Facebook’s Help Center and Android forums. The social network confirmed that the update is legitimate and added a new section to its Help Center to clarify.
Facebook has moved to a four- to six-week cycle for Android updates. Some users might not download new versions that frequently and end up using an older version that might be slower or lacks a new feature. This change could help make app updates more automatic for users.
TechCrunch says this could also be a way for Facebook to push more beta features to a smaller number of users, as it was able to do more when the app was primarily HTML5. Now the app is moving to more of a native approach, which improves speed and performance, but tends to allow less flexibility for frequent testing.