With the recent boom in cheap, basic tablet devices running Google’s Android platform, a lot of new users are being introduced to the world of Android on larger screens. Unfortunately, Google’s official policy with current versions of Android has been to not allow the use of the Android Market on devices that are not phones. In other words, if you have a low-end tablet, no Market access for you, turning off the easiest and most painless way for a user to find apps for their new device.
The good news is that there’s a solution. Called “side-loading,” it’s basically the process of downloading and installing apps outside of the Android Market infrastructure.
The First Step
The first step in side-loading apps on your tablet is the hardest — finding the actual apps. Because virtually all app distribution is through the Android Market, most developers don’t provide independent downloads from their website. In fact, you can’t even download applications from the Market to your PC, you can only flag them for delivery to a phone.
The major side effect of this is that it’s basically impossible to buy Market apps and then use them on a tablet which doesn’t have Market access. The only way to do that is to install them first to an Android phone, and then copy them to the tablet, which may violate the application license agreement. Either way, it’s not something most users want to mess with.
Fortunately, you’re not entirely without options. There are a few places online to get freeware Android apps straight to your computer–provided that you don’t mind jumping through a few hoops.
One such website I’ve run across for this is AndroidFreeware.org. It lists over a thousand downloadable apps, without having to wade through the… shall we say, “not safe for work” advertising common on other download sites. Another site is GetJar.com. GetJar serves more than just Android devices, so to limit what you see to just Android apps, you need to input the model of an Android phone such as the Motorola Droid.
So let’s say that you’ve found an app that you want, and hit “download.” Now what? Android apps come in an “APK” file, which stands for “application package.” Think of it as one big self installing box of all the parts of the app, labelled “YourAppNameHere.apk”. The next step is moving this file onto your tablet. Fortunately, once you have APK file in hand, the rest is relatively easy. There’s a bunch of ways to get the app to the tablet. Besides simply downloading straight to the tablet over WiFi (probably the most straightforward way) you can also transfer these files over USB, or on a memory card. If your device supports USB “Host,” meaning plugging other USB devices into it, you can drop the APK files onto a flash drive and plug it into the tablet.
If you’re downloading APKs direct on the device, then it will likely automatically load the APK installer once the download has completed. Just follow the instructions, and your new app should be properly installed.
Any other way, you’ll need to open up your file explorer and use it to go to the place where you put the APKs. This is usually on the SD card or USB storage device. Then simply tap on the APK you want to install, and follow the directions.
Although it’s a little more work, the upside of downloading your own APKs is also that you can keep backup copies of them–on your PC, on a memory card, wherever. If you ever want to reinstall, or for some reason lose data, then they’re waiting right there.
Not all applications will install on these tablets, and not all of those that do will run smoothly. Some may be incompatible with the hardware used in these low-end tablets, others might not work right with the larger screen resolution. However, in my experience with a seven-inch Android tablet, most applications will still run fine, more than enough to make it worth exploring the full capabilities of your new Android tablet.