For nearly everybody, using the built in Android App Market is a piece of cake, it’s on the main screen, it’s easy to install and uninstall apps, and it’s regularly updated. You could even go so far as to use a site like AppBrain to streamline the process to/from the Android App Market (the apps still come from the market, just through an easy to control web page). However, what if you want to install an app that doesn’t come from the market? For example:
- Apps that are not yet officially on the Market (ie. beta or test versions)
- Apps that a friend recommends and sends you
- Apps that aren’t approved for your geographic location won’t show in your App Market (you can alternatively use a program like MarketEnabler to change your regional location)
- Apps that are modified in some way to enable full function *ahem*
- You do not need root access to install apps this way
First a quick primer, applications on Android are kept in single files called ‘packages’. These packages contain all the installation information required for the process, and have a file extension of .APK (Android PacKage). So the process works as follows:
- Find .APK installer file
- Send .APK to system, system then invokes ‘Application Manager’ to run the installer
- Application Manager confirms permissions with user, then installs
If you use the built-in App Market, this entire process is streamlined for you. However if you want to install non-market apps for the reasons listed above, you will need to manually do steps 1 and 2. So for example, APK files can come from a variety of sources, including websites, email attachments, etc, etc. Keep in mind that there are malicious APKs out there, so please exercise caution! For this example, we will assume that you have received an APK from a friend as an attachment:
- First off (and you only need to do this once). Home => Menu => Settings => Applications => Unknown Sources => Tick. This will set the phone to allow installations from non-market sources.
- Open the .APK file (you can run it directly after you’ve saved the extension from e-mail or webpage). If you have ended up saving the .APK file somewhere on your SDCard, then you will require a file manager to run the file. There are plenty of good file managers on the App Market, personally I prefer something like Astro or EStrongs File Explorer. With these free utilities, you can browse around your SD card, just like you would in Windows Explorer.
- After running the .APK, the normal installation procedure occurs, and asks you to verify permissions. After confirming, your program is now installed. Easy!