How to Install an APK on an Android Device

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Matthew M. White
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One of the freedoms offered by Android compared to other mobile operating systems like iOS is the ability to install apps outside of the Play Store. While this raises security and hacking issues on the platform, it also has several advantages: you don't have to wait for updates to roll out slowly on the Play Store, you can install new apps on your phone. apps that Google doesn't want to make available in their own store, and you can use apps that have arbitrary hardware restrictions for specific devices. You can even install third-party app stores, like Amazon, on any phone or tablet you want.



In this article, we will see how to download and install APKs on your Android device.

Install APKs on Android

To install an application outside the Play Store, you need a file called "APK" or Android Package Kit. If you've ever used a Windows PC, think of an .apk file as the Android version of an .exe file on your desktop or laptop. For Mac users, they are the equivalent of a .dmg file. Like any computer, Android will take the APK file, extract the software, and install the app for use, as if it had been downloaded and installed from the Play Store.

For added security, Android devices do not come with the ability to install apps from external sources not offered by Google. But if you've found an app you want to install or don't want to wait for an update to roll out to the Play Store, allowing Android to install APK files is simple and easy.


Step One: Enable APK Installation on Android

You won't need root access or an unlocked bootloader to accomplish this. Enabling Android's third-party app capabilities is as easy as diving into settings, as long as you know where to look.


  • So open your settings menu by clicking on the settings shortcut in your notification bar or by opening the settings through your app drawer.
  • Once you're in the settings you'll want to scroll to the bottom of your settings menu and click on Safety. If you can't find the Security option, use the search feature in Settings and type "Security." It should return you with the security menu.
  • The security menu can seem a bit intimidating to start with. There are a lot of options here that might seem a bit confusing to new Android users. No worries, just scroll down to Unknown sources selection under Device management. You will see the switch to enable the setting is currently disabled.
  • When you click on the option, you will receive a pop-up message warning you that “your [device] and personal data are more vulnerable to attacks by applications from unknown sources. We'll cover a bit more about what this means below, but for now, click OK. The popup will disappear and you will see that the switch has been activated.
  • At this point, you can go home; you're done messing around in the settings.

Step Two: Download APKs Online

As promised, let's talk about the elephant in the room: third-party APKs can be dangerous and insecure. One of the benefits of downloading apps exclusively from the Play Store is being able to know and trust that the APK has been signed by Google. While the Play Store has been hit by malware attacks in the past, it's by far the safest way to install apps on Android.



Obviously, installing random APKs online is not recommended. There are many sites online that promise paid apps for free, and even though some of these sites are legit, you don't want to take the risk. Instead, if you're looking to install APKs outside of the Play Store, we recommend using sites that are known to be sources of quality APK downloads, like APKMirror and APKPure. These sites host unmodified APK files of free downloads and display when each app is signed by the manufacturer. APKMirror, in particular, is often used by the XDA and modding crowd to install new versions of apps before they hit the Play Store.

  • To download an APK, you can either access the source of the APK itself on your device, or download the file to your computer and transfer it to your phone or tablet as you would any other file . Some sites, like APKMirror, offer a QR code service that you can scan with your phone to automatically direct your device to the download site. Once you find the download site, click "Download APK" to save the file to your system.
  • You'll want to make sure the file you downloaded ends in .apk. If you downloaded a .zip file or any other type of file, it can be dangerous and you better avoid using this download. If you've determined that your file is safe (at your own risk), you can tap the file either in your notification bar or wherever you saved it in your file browser.



Step Three: Install an APK

Opening the file will display an installer pop-up, indicating what the application will have access to. Pay attention to this screen. If you're installing an app that shouldn't or doesn't need access to the system architecture it requests (such as a calculator app requesting access to your contacts or camera), you should cancel the installation; you might have a malware-infested app. Other apps, like Snapchat in this example, will need to ask for dozens of permissions to work properly. If anything looks suspicious, you should avoid the installation.

Once you have determined that the APK is safe based on the app's required permissions, you can click Installer to complete the installation. Most apps install in seconds, although larger apps may take a little longer. Once the installation of the application is complete, you will see a big notification that the installation process is complete and you can click on Completed.

If you go home, you will see that the app has appeared in your app drawer. From then on, the app will work like any other app, with one exception: you won't receive updates through the Google Play Store for the app you have installed. If you need to update an app, you will need to find a newer version of the APK and install it. It will replace the current variant of the app with a new one. Updates install the same way as normal apps through this process.

APKs and Androids

As we mentioned, there are many reasons to install third-party apps on your phone or tablet. They can be a great way to test new apps that aren't on the Play Store yet, or beta versions of existing apps. Some apps take time to roll out updates to users, and some apps are limited to carrier or hardware variants. Third-party sources are a great way to get around these restrictions, installing an app that traditionally wouldn't work on the device you're using. Yet these apps are not without privacy and security concerns; The important part of installing APKs from online sources is remembering to use common sense.

If an app is cracked, modified, or asks for permissions that seem unusual, avoid installing the app. As long as you stick to trusted sources, you'll find that installing APKs is a great fallback if the app you want isn't in the Play Store yet, or worse, if it isn't. is not available on your device. APK installation is one of those features that makes Android the mobile operating system of choice among many others: the freedom to install the applications you want on your device, without restriction of the manufacturer's or operator's restrictions.

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