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The gap between desktop and mobile is closing all the time. But while this means we’re getting more and more desktop class apps on our phones, getting mobile apps on our desktops is as hard as ever. Unless you use a Chromebook.
But what if you use a Mac? It is possible to run Android apps on macOS. You’ll need some third-party software, and you’ll need to be willing to spend a few moments setting it up. Once you’re done, you’ll even have access to the Google Play Store.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at the best solution — VirtualBox — along with a few other methods you might want to explore.
The best way to run Android apps on your Mac is to install a full version of the Android operating system itself. You can do this using the free VirtualBox software and a build of Android that has been developed for computers with Intel processors.
Before you get started, then, download VirtualBox and the x86 build of Android. The most recent version supported is Marshmallow.
Download: VirtualBox (Free)
Download: x86 build of Android (Free)
The process is straightforward, but there are quite a few steps involved. If you aren’t fully up to speed with virtual machines, partitions, file systems and the like, don’t worry. We’ll skip the technical explanations — just follow the instructions to get up and running.
Set Up VirtualBox
Install VirtualBox and then launch it. From the main screen, click New and enter a name for your virtual machine (you can just call it Android). Under Type, select Linux, and for Version, choose Other Linux (64-bit). Then click Continue.
You can keep the defaults for the next few screens. Click Continue to accept them for the Memory Size, Hard Disk, and Hard Disk File Type settings.
Under Storage on Physical Hard Disk select Fixed Size, which can give you a small speed boost, and click Continue.
The next screen is File Location and Size. Click the folder icon to choose where you want to save your new virtual hard disk — or just keep the default option. Stick with the recommended size for the disk as well, then click Create.
Your virtual machine is now set up, and you need to install Android on it. Back in the main window select the Android VM and click Start.
Next select the Android ISO file that you downloaded earlier and click Start. You’re now ready to install the operating system, or you can run it without installing. This is slower and doesn’t enable you to save your setup. If you plan to use the operating system more than once, it’s best to install it.
The mouse doesn’t work for the next few options, so use the cursor keys on your keyboard to highlight your chosen option and hit Enter to select it.
The first part of the process is to create a virtual partition on your hard drive. This is where Android will be installed. On the next screen, choose Create/Modify Partitions, followed by No.
Next, select New to create a new partition, then Primary, then hit Enter to accept the size. Finally, highlight Bootable and hit Enter again. The word Boot should have appeared under Flag in the table above.
Once this is done, use the cursor keys to scroll over to Write and press Enter. You can ignore the warning about the partition destroying data on your disk — you aren’t creating an actual partition, just a large file that will function as one. Type “yes” to get started.
Once that is complete scroll over to Quit and hit Enter.
You’ll now see the Choose Partition screen, with your newly created virtual partition listed at the top. The next step is to install Android on this partition. Select the partition and choose OK to begin.
On the next screen, select ext4 under Choose File System, then hit Yes to confirm on the next screen. The partition will then be formatted.
Next, you’ll be asked if you want to install the boot loader. Choose Yes, then select Skip on the next screen. When prompted to install the /system directory as read/write, choose Yes. Android will now begin installing.
When it has finished, you’ll be prompted to run Android. Hit Enter, and it will boot in its own window on your desktop.
Android on MacOS
From there, it’s just Android as you know it on your phone, tablet, or TV box. You can control it with your mouse — you may need to go to Input > Mouse Integration (and deselect it) to get it working — but multi-touch controls are off limits. Hit Cmd + F to go full screen.
Enter the details for your Google account, and you’ll have full access to the Play Store. You can also download apps through the browser and sideload them. Not every app will work, and not all of them will work perfectly, but you should hopefully be able to get most of your favorites up and running.
A Few Other Methods
VirtualBox is the best way to get Android apps working on macOS. There are a few other options you can look into, although they’re less effective and, in some cases, no longer supported.
The Android SDK comes with a full emulator for the Android operating system, and it comes with the main benefit of always being fully up to date. However, it’s not intended as a method for running any app on your desktop — it’s for quickly testing apps you’ve built yourself.
As such, installing apps is not easy, and the performance is far from great — the emulator is notoriously slow. Plus, installing the full Studio software is probably overkill for what most users are looking to achieve.
BlueStacks is the best way to run Android apps on Windows. The BlueStacks AppPlayer is free, fast, and very easy to set up. It also works with a large array of apps and games.
If you visit bluestacks.com from your Mac, you’ll be prompted to download and install a version of this software for MacOS computers. Unfortunately, the software is not currently supported and no longer works.
If you want to explore this option, and you have a legal copy of Windows on hand, you will need to use Bootcamp to set up your Mac to dual boot into Windows. You’ll then be able to install and test out the Windows version.
Chrome apps are also no longer officially supported outside of Chrome OS. However, you can still download them. ARC Welder is an old app that runs in the Chrome browser on a Mac that enables you to run Android apps within.
It’s still worth testing, but it’s slow and support for apps seems to be very hit or miss. It isn’t a long term solution either, since the lack of support means it’s likely to eventually stop working altogether.
Did You Get Android Running on Your Mac?
For most users, VirtualBox is the way to go. Although the instructions might seem complex, it only takes a few minutes to get working. And the integration with the Play Store makes it easy to get your favorite apps on your Mac.
Do you run Android apps on macOS? How have you found the experience? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Originally written by Simon Slangen on July 9th, 2012.