I have a bone to pick with Google. For whatever reason, in Hangouts 5.0 for Android, they disabled the Hangouts launcher widget—a mini-window that lists my most recent conversations. They didn’t just remove it, but they replaced it with a non-functional equivalent simply containing the text “Widget is no longer available.”
Why? I have no idea. It’s not mentioned in the patch notes, and the only articles I’m able to find that even mention it just happen to notice that it’s no longer there. I tried contacting Google support via chat, but the representative had no way of knowing why they did it and could only suggest I try contacting Google via e-mail—and when I emailed to the address she gave me, I got an autoresponse saying that this was not an email address that they actually replied to, click on these links for help. So much for that idea.
This widget removal is particularly obnoxious from my perspective, because those are the widget I use the most on any of my Android devices that support them (my Moto X, my Nexus 7, and my Nook HD). And that’s not the only annoying thing, either. They also added a splash screen we have to sit through whenever the app launches—something else I could stand to do without.
Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to back off to a prior version of an Android app, and this could be useful to know in the event some other app—such as an e-reader, for example—makes a change for the worse that you want to opt back out of. Here’s how you do it.
1. Delete the unwanted newer app.
This is simple enough to do. Just go into the Apps listing under Settings, find the app, and tap the “Uninstall” button. (Because Hangouts is a default system app, it’s “Uninstall Updates” rather than just “Uninstall,” but that works fine, too.)
2. Obtain a compatible APK.
This is another easy one: just search on the app name and the version you want. For example, “Hangouts 4.2”. Only, in my case I ended up having to go back to Hangouts 4.0 instead—the only Hangouts 4.2 I could find required at least Android 5.0+, and my Moto X phone is on Android 4.4.4 Kit Kat. This is also why I couldn’t use the other recommended solution for obtaining an APK, using a backup program to copy it from one of my other Android devices. My other Android devices are all above that 5.0 line. Be sure and check what the minimum Android requirements are before you download.
In any event, there are a number of APK mirrors out there, and they should pop right up in your search results. Note that you should make sure you’re downloading from a reputable source; search on the name of the mirror site to make sure it’s on the up-and-up.
3. Enable APK installation from unknown sources.
For most recent versions of Android, this is under “Security” in the Settings app.
4. Copy the APK file over and open it.
The simplest way is just to connect your Android device to your computer, open its internal memory in an Explorer window, and drag and drop it into the Android file system. I suggest putting it in the “Downloads” folder, because it’s there already and it lets you use the Android “Downloads” app to open it and launch it. Alternately, you could simply download it directly from the browser on your Android device and not have to worry about copying it across.
If all goes well, you’ll get the app installer dialogue asking if you want to install the application.
5. If you get a parse error, try uploading the APK to Google Drive and using the Google Drive app to download it.
Sometimes there are “parse error” issues with downloaded APKs that prevent them from installing properly. That could be because you downloaded an incompatible version (again, make sure you check compatibility in step 2 above), but if you’re sure it’s for the right OS, it could be due to permissions issues on the copied-over file. A quick workaround is to upload the APK file to your Google Drive directory, and then use the Android Google Drive app to download the APK from there. That’s what I ended up having to do with Hangouts 4.0.
6. Turn off autoupdate on the app you rolled back.
Rolling back the app won’t help all that much if the next time you do an automatic update, it downloads a later version and replaces the one you just reinstalled. To do that, open the Play Store app and find the store page for the app in question. Then tap the three-dot settings icon at the upper right corner, and uncheck the “Autoupdate” box.
If autoupdate is unchecked already, it might be that your autoupdate is turned off for everything already. Try checking it instead, and you might get a pop-up asking if you want to enable autoupdate. Tell it yes, and then open the menu and uncheck autoupdate again. From then on, whenever you do an update all, you’ll get a pop-up asking if you want to update that app, which has autoupdate disabled. Just tap on “Skip” and it’ll update everything else for you.
And that’s how you roll back to a previous version of an app whose most recent update made a turn for the worse. Hopefully this advice works as well for you as it did for me.