The Google Play Store is the simplest and safest way to download apps onto your device. However, sometimes there are reasons to install apps from other sources, as is the case with Fortnite for Android for example. Or you may simply be looking for apps that can't be found on Google Play or your local version of it. Whatever the reason, if you can find the APK, you can install via sideloading. Read on to find out how.
- How to set up your device for sideloading
- What are the risks?
- How to download and install an APK
- What you can use sideloading for
While there could be some slight variation in exactly where you'll find this setting on your Android phone, it's usually buried within the Security & privacy or App menus. This is the most common path on Android Oreo:
- Go to Settings.
- Find the Security & privacy option and tap on it.
- Scroll down and look for 'install from unknown apps'. If it's not there, try under 'more'.
- You should be presented with a list of apps. Find your browser - Chrome, for example.
- Tap on it and then select 'Allow from this source'.
On most HTC phones (and some other devices) follow these steps instead:
- Head to Settings.
- Go to Apps and then select configure apps.
- Scroll down. Find and tap advanced options or special app access.
- Scroll to the bottom of the special app access menu, where you can find the 'install unknown apps' option.
- Find your browser, (e.g. Chrome), tap it and select 'Allow from this source'.
If you still have trouble finding these options in settings, you can simply use the search option and type in 'unknown', which should save you some time.
By checking selecting 'allow from this source', you'll should now be able to install APK files downloaded from your browser. You can always go back to the settings menu and disallow this, after you're done installing your APKs of choice. Keep in mind that there can be additional security prompts or prompts to allow installation of files from unknown sources on some devices or older versions of Android.
There's a reason that installing APKs from unknown sources is switched off by default in Android: it's inherently unsafe to download random APKs from the web and install them on your phone. While that might seem contradictory with providing a guide on how to install from outside Google Play, as long as you know (and trust) where your apps are coming from.
The efficacy of anti-virus has long been up for debate, but if you do think they're worthwhile on an Android device, they'll often scan apps before you install them, providing another potential line of defense.
By leaving the installation of all unknown apps on by default, you're opening the door for any malware-infected or malicious apps to silently download other nefarious software silently in the background. If you disallow by default and only allow on a case-by-case basis, there's a much smaller risk of this.
By now, you know that where you download your APK from is key. Let's take a simple example like downloading and installing WhatsApp from outside the Play Store.
In this case, WhatsApp provides its own direct download page that you can either visit on a desktop and then transfer the file to your phone, or visit on your phone browser (requesting the desktop site from your browser settings) and then download it directly to your device.
Once downloaded, you can check out your Downloads in the app drawer and select the downloaded APK file. Clicking on that will start the install process, and if required, will ask you to allow the app permissions to continue.
If you want to install Fortnite on your Android smartphone, you can follow our guide here.
Sideloading an APK from a PC
If for some reason you have trouble downloading an APK directly to your Android, you can also download the file to your PC, then connect your phone to the PC via cable (select Transfer Files) and copy the APK into your phone. This requires a dedicated file explorer app to access the APK. You will also need to grant the File Explorer permission to install from unknown sources.
Many apps can't be downloaded directly from the company that makes them, however. In this instance, you'll want to check out one of the more trusted app repositories like APKMirror. From there you can download manually vetted apps that use the same digital signatures as the apps on Google Play.
Where to get an APK?
If you can't find what you're looking for on the Play Store or APKmirror, there are some alternative app repositories out there. We've taken a look at the most important ones in this article.
Many impatient Android users first discovered sideloading thanks to Pokémon Go and Niantic's choice to release the game in waves to different countries. However, the recent decision of Epic Games to bypass Google Play and offer Fortnite to players directly through their website, is likely to make other developers follow suit. The 30% revenue cut that Google takes from apps/games on their store is quite significant.
We think you should expect more apps requiring sideloading in the future. For the retro gamers among you, sideloading is also the best source of discovering emulators that Nintendo and Sony have purged from Google Play.
Have you tried to install apps from outside Google's Play Store? Let us know how it went in the comments below!