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My smartphone still works as a mobile phone. I would like to exploit it at its full potential but many applications don't support its "old" operating system Gingerbread 2.3.6.

I do not want to buy a new phone because it works well. However, I would like to develop apps for my personal use on this phone but Google does not support Gingerbread since 2017.

Can developers build applications for unsupported Android versions?

Note: the question is also about programmed software obsolescence. Currently, we cannot make libre software distributions on all devices. Android is an open source operating system so there may be possibilities to maintain smartphones despite proprietary locks (hardware and software). The question allows you to see what can be done for a working device: why a working Android device is become unusable? From my point of view, the device is still usable if someone maintains a functional development environment which allows to develop new applications.

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    If it is that old it is an UMTS/GSM only device. Most mobile network operators around the world are converting UMTS cell towers to LTE/G5 cell towers, therefore in the next few years your phone will more and more loose mobile Internet via UMTS. Make sure you don't put too much effort into that device. – Robert Aug 30 at 17:15
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Qualified yes, but it becomes more difficult (and depending on the features required impossible)

Devices with Google Play has a set of built in services - Google Play Services - which is provided for free (or nearly so) for apps. These services include Location & Maps, push messaging (was Google Cloud Messaging, now Firebase Cloud Messaging), Google Sign-in, and others. These services provide a lock-in to developers as they are available in any device that comes with Google Play Store.

All of these services are subject to change over their lifetime and Google has already announced that Google Play Services for Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) API 14 & 15 will no longer be updated

What this means is that for any app developer interested in the current market of Android devices with Google Play Services, they will have to do additional work to support older devices where the Google APIs are frozen.

Another pain point for developers is that the WebView prior to Android 5.0 was tied to OS updates so WebView issues/quirks varied depending on manufacturer and OS version.

You would also need to find older web browsers as both Firefox and Chrome are at or above Android 4.0. So advances in mobile website development may break on older browsers.

As mentioned by @Robert:

The Android Tools Team has evolved the build tools from the time of Gingerbread: Eclipse IDE based to IntelliJ IDE, Java Ant build system to Gradle build system, etc. There may be a situation where either the tools no longer support the older SDK or the developers for old devices need a depreciated API which is no longer supported by the latest SDK or any recent ones. Additionally Android developers depend upon third-party support libraries written by Google or other developers each of which have their own depreciation schedule.

What can I do

Run a Custom ROM with a replacement for Google Services if necessary, see: Fakestore, blankstore, gms, microg, unifiednlp - what's best for Android without Gapps?

What if I don't want to root/Custom ROM

Any developer would need to find matching APIs for the Google Services which would work at the lower API of the device. They will probably need to pay for things which were free with Google Services like in-app map tiles and push notification.

Note that even the open-source app store F-Droid now has a minimum API level of 14, Ice Cream Sandwich

Developers are still free to create apps which users can download and side-load on older devices, if they don't use any deprecated Google Services for that device

  • Moderators: Answer focused on explaining to a the user audience the issues facing developers for supporting older platforms which I think the question can be turned into. Otherwise delete if too close to development type question. – Morrison Chang Aug 30 at 16:37
  • There one additional problem: You need the old build tools, as modern Android build tools can't build apps for such old devices. – Robert Aug 30 at 17:18
  • @Robert - I can still see Gingerbread SDK in the Android Studio SDK tool. As I haven't tried to build anything that old, I agree that there is risk that the current tooling really doesn't support it. – Morrison Chang Aug 30 at 17:24
  • You are right. I had something in mind about discontinued support. But that was most likely only about the support libraries. – Robert Aug 30 at 18:06
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You are free to build any app for unsupported versions of Android. However, you won't be able to publish on Google Play Store (if you intend to).

From an article published when Google ended support for ICS:

First, Google won’t allow developers to publish apps that support the API level for ICS — that’s API 14 and 15. That means the oldest supported version of Android in the Play Store is Android 4.1 Jelly Bean (API 16).

  • Moderators: If answering the question because it can be considered a development question, please feel free to delete this answer. – Reddy Lutonadio Aug 30 at 16:10

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