How To Manually Install (“Side Load”) Apps On Your Android Device

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manually install android appsIgnoring any “app count” wars between the iOS and Android worlds, one thing is for sure — there are a ton of apps available to install on Android, no matter how you look at it. A large amount of apps are freely available for anyone in the world with an internet connection. However, there are a few apps which are extremely useful but not available in all countries. Or maybe you’re in an area for a longer period of time where your device itself doesn’t have internet.

The app you’d like might not even be found in the Google Play Store — although this is a rare occurrence. No matter what the issue at hand is, it’d be great if you can manually install, or “side load”, apps onto your Android device. But how do you do this?

What Will We Be Doing?

In a quick summary, the easiest way to get apps onto your phone is to download the app itself in .apk format and transfer it via a USB cable to your device’s internal memory or SD card. From there, you can use a file browser to open it and have the Android system install the app. The entire process it rather simple but it does require a couple of steps, especially when you’re doing it for the first time.

Getting the APK File

manually install android apps
First, you’ll need to download the APK file of the app which you’d like to install. Where you get the APK depends largely on how comfortable you feel with wherever you get it. Officially, you cannot get the APK files of any app directly from the Google Play Store. However, there is an extension which can download them — albeit breaking the Play Store’s Terms of Service.

If you’re fine with going that way, then it’s a possible option. Otherwise, you can search the internet for the app’s APK, using search terms such as “side load android”. If you’ve had the app installed before or have a friend who does, you can often get the APK through backup software like Titanium Backup. Essentially, getting the APK file is the hardest part of the entire process.

Transfer to Device

side load android
Once you have the APK file in hand, go ahead and connect your device to your computer and enable mass storage or mount the SD card to the computer like you usually do. Then copy the APK file over to the device; it doesn’t matter where you put it as long as you remember the location. Then don’t forget to safely unmount before you move on to actually installing.

Installing

manually install android apps
Before you can actually install the APK file, you’ll need to tell your device that it can install any apps outside of the Play Store without throwing a fit. You can find this switch in your Settings –> Security –> Unknown Sources. Once this is enabled, you’re clear to fire up your file browser (I personally prefer ASTRO), locate the APK file, and open it. The Android OS should take over, identifying that the APK file is an app, and ask you whether you’d like to go ahead and install it, all permissions accounted for. After a couple seconds, your app should be installed and ready to go!

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Conclusion

Provided you have an APK file of the app in hand, you shouldn’t have any problems whatsoever getting that app installed on your Android device. I’m sure there are other ways to manually install Android apps (such as transferring the APK file via Bluetooth instead of a USB cable), but the USB method is the easiest and most commonly used. If you come across any issues, searching on MakeUseOf or heading over to MakeUseOf Answers should be of help.

Do you regularly install an app manually? Are there certain apps you need which can only be installed manually? Let us know in the comments!

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Comments (34)
  • Collin C

    It’s a tablet

  • Collin C

    I can’t download an apk file that was sent via Gmail from work. I click it in my inbox and says “cannot download file” so how on earth can I install it if I can’t download it?

  • Katherine

    i have never sideload an apk file to my pandigital novel 7 inch white. i have a hard time trying to installed apps. i aalways get the message package is not parsing.

  • Ethan G.

    Didnt work with some apps on my droid Bionic with the ICS
    Some say that there is an existing pakage with a conflicting signature while others just say app not installed.

  • Kylee Kanavas

    Im not sure if this was already covered but: Can use this process to get an app that is only on ios, on an android device?

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.