So you’ve taken the plunge and decided to get an Android phone? Your friend got an iPhone, your mom told you you don’t even need a smart phone, and the weird salesman in Best Buy has been trying to sell you on Windows Phone 7. Despite all of that, you stayed true and got an Android phone. Or maybe your parents just got you one as a gift. Regardless of why you got here, you’re here. Welcome to Android 101, where I will try and help you get to better know your phone. These posts should help you delve into the vast world of Android. Topic for now? Non market apps; an important thing to learn to really let your phone loose. Hit the break to learn more.
One of the big draws of Android has always been the ability to install apps without using the Android Market. These non Market apps are generally called “3rd Party” apps. There are two ways to install these special apps and a lot of benefits to learning how to do this. The first way? Simply finding apps on the internet and installing them to your phone. First is the setup.
So what do you have to do to be able to install these 3rd party apps? Not much, in fact. While this may be different on your phone, the general guideline is this: Hit menu while on your home screen, go to settings, select applications, and there should be a box for you to check that says “Unknown sources” (or something similar). If you can’t find this, you should get a message the first time you try and install a 3rd party app allowing you to check it easily then. Now that you’re already for this, we move onto the first method of installation. The “apk”.
The “.apk” file
When you find an app on the internet you’ll know based on the file type. If you see “coolapp.apk” you’ll know that if you put this app on your phone you’ll install the app “coolapp” (side note: the name of the app does not have to be the name of the file you found. It is not uncommon to find an apk file that is named something different. So coolthing.apk could install an app called “wicked sweet.”). Apk’s resemble .exe files on a PC and .dmg on a Mac. They’re the things that let you install stuff. Think of “apk” as a short for “application.” Once you’ve gotten it on your phone you need to find it! That’s where a file manager application comes in. Applications such as Andro Zip and Astro in The Market are the most famous, but any other applications that allow you to browse the files on your phone will suffice. Once you’ve got the file manager up and running all you need to do is select the apk file you’re trying to install. While the different sub menus may be different, you should be prompted to install the app (in Andro Zip just clicking it will give you the option to install, Astro requires you to press one or two things before getting there). Boom! Your app is installed!
The “Non Market” Market/App Store
There are a lot of other markets out there believe it or not. The most famous and trusted non market market would be the Amazon App store. But it doesn’t end there and there are many other app stores out there. For the most part, you won’t need anything past the Android Market (the one pre-installed on your phone). The Amazon App store occasionally has secret goodies that the Market doesn’t (specifically having a paid app be free for one day, everyday). If those two don’t suffice there are others. Whatever your reason is, these different app stores and markets are there for you, and each can be useful so it’s important you know what they are. For example, say you really want an emulator on your phone. There are no really good emulators on the market. However, a famous developer has put all of his emulators in an app store -for free- called SlideMe. These app stores have different ways of installing them but once you’ve downloaded them to your phone they should act very similarly to the Android Market. Installing them is either in the .apk way with the .apk file downloadable on their site, or actually in the Android Market. Once you’ve installed them though, you’re on your own. There are too many for me to explain how they all work.
Don’t non Market apps have viruses?
How do I put this? 99% NO. Similar to installing anything on your computer, the vast majority of third party apps are clean. There is an incredibly small number of Chinese Markets that are notorious for distributing virus filled apps. If you’re reading this site, you’re probably not worried about those. More importantly, you shouldn’t be afraid to install something on your phone just because the media likes to have a field day attacking anything that’s successful. If you trust the website or person you got the app from it’s good. If that isn’t enough for you, you have to check the permissions to install ANY app. While you shouldn’t look at these too closely (since short of talking with the developer you probably won’t understand why you need everything), you should still look in case anything sticks out. If you’re installing a calculator and it tells you it needs to be able to access your personal information and send texts it’s probably a no no. But again, it is a common misconception that installing third party apps will give your phone viruses. Unless you’re very stupid about where you get your apps from you’ll be fine.
And that’s your first lesson class. Now, go out and be free!