The latest upcoming evolution of Android, version 11, will introduce a fairly small but unwanted change about which some smartphone owners are already complaining: elimination of the camera selection menu. Going forward, Android users will only be able to access the device’s pre-installed camera app when attempting to take a photo through a third-party app, something Google has confirmed and described as necessary for privacy and security.
Though Android devices come with a stock camera app, users have a huge number of alternative options available in the Play Store, including ones that feature ‘pro’ controls. When a user attempts to capture an image through a third-party app, such as an auction app that supports directly capturing images rather than uploading from the camera roll, they may be presented with a menu that asks which installed camera app should be used.
When the Android 11 update rolls out, however, this will change and users will no longer be given this option, as recently spied by Android Police. Instead, the third-party app will default to the device’s stock camera app. To get around this, users would have to first launch their preferred camera app, capture the images they need, then upload those images in the third-party app from the camera roll — a process that would take considerably longer than directly launching the desired app.
News of this change seems to have first surfaced on Reddit’s Android Dev community, where developers have expressed frustration and concerns about the restriction.
Google itself details this change on its Android Developer website, stating that, ‘Media intent actions require system default camera.’ In this case, ‘intent’ refers to the third-party app’s intent to capture an image, but its dependency on the device’s camera apps due to its own lack of built-in camera functionality.
When questioned about the change on its Issue Tracker website, a Google employee stated that the lack of third-party camera selection was an intended behavior and that despite potentially making things more complicated for developers, ‘we believe it’s the right trade-off to protect the privacy and security of our users.’
The idea is that while the Google Play Store takes steps to protect users from malicious apps, some still manage to get through to users. In addition, Android allows users to sideload apps that haven’t gone through the security vetting process, potentially putting themselves at risk. A malicious camera app may compromise the user’s privacy, gathering anything from images to location data.
Whether that risk is an adequate reason for restricting the third-party camera picker is a point of contention among developers. While some acknowledge the security benefits of ensuring users don’t accidentally use malicious third-party camera apps, others note that users are likely to blame developers for this restriction.
Beyond that, users are deprived of the freedom of choice that has made Android an appealing platform to many. Whereas Apple has historically restricted users in ways intended to protect their privacy, Android users have enjoyed more control over their devices, including the ability to load apps outside of the Google Play Store — even if it does come with risks that average users may not understand.
Some developers and users have expressed concerns that Google’s decision to restrict the camera picker in the name of security may indicate a wider change behind doors that could lead to additional restrictions in the future. Whether this ends up being the case is yet to be seen.
At this point in time, Google offers developers who are unhappy with this change an option for getting around it, but it would require them to have their apps directly check for other camera options by looking for their package names. This isn’t a terribly useful option as developers would have to choose which packages to look for ahead of time. If the developer fails to include the specific camera app the user wants to access, they’ll still end up using the stock camera app.