If you own an Android phone you will likely have heard of an APK file at some point, and possibly wondered "what exactly is an APK file?" Understanding this is essential if you want to start downloading leaked apps or customizing your own Android experience further than would be possible using the Play Store alone. In our guide you'll learn what APK files are, how to download them, and finally, how to install them. Read on to discover what these little packages are all about.
Just like Windows PC systems use a .exe file for installing software, Android does the same. An APK file is the file format used for installing software (usually games or apps) on the Android operating system.
Why would I want to install an APK File?
Searching for and downloading APK files allows you to access apps that have leaked ahead of their official release. (You can also download apps which have been banned, though we would not recommend this.) APK files of new Android builds are often leaked ahead of time, giving you early access to all the exciting new features that otherwise wouldn't be available to you. A recent example of this would be with the early Android L build which found its way online despite that it's yet to be officially released.
APK files also allow you to bypass carriers to get the latest Google updates, which can take a a frustrating amount of time to arrive via an over-the-air update from your network, and if your Android device lacks access to the Google Play Store, APK files may be your only option for installing apps on your device.
How to install APK Files from your computer
There are many sources of APK files across the web, but be sure to choose a site which you trust. Some APK files may contain malicious software (malware) which could compromise your phones security, so it is best to be cautious before downloading or installing any app from outside of the Play Store (and even in the Play Store you're not completely safe!). Generally speaking, APK files found on sites like XDA should be safer to download than from elsewhere, but read some reviews and user comments before downloading or installing an APK.
FIrstly, you must find an APK file that you want. Search online for an APK file and download it to an easy-to-find location on your computer (like your desktop). Before you can install it on your phone you will need to make sure that third-party apps are allowed on your device. Go to Menu > Settings > Security > and check "Unknown Sources" to allow your phone to install apps from sources other than the Google Play Store. If you like, you can also download an app like ES File Explorer so you can easily find files on your Android device.
Once you have downloaded the file on your computer, connect your device to it. At this point, you may be asked if you simply want to charge your phone or connect it as a "media device." Choose "media device". Then, simply find your phone's folder on your computer (it will be in "My Computer" or "Computer" on Windows machines) and copy the APK file into a folder of your choice in your Android smartphone.
You will now be able to search for the file location in the "my files" folder on your device. Find the APK file, tap it, then tap "install". And you're done.
How to Install APK Files from Your Browser
You can also install APK files from the browser on your Android smartphone or tablet. Just open your browser, find the APK file you want to download, and tap it - you should then be able to see it downloading on the top bar of your device. Once it's downloaded, open your "downloads", tap on the .apk file, and tap "yes" when prompted. The app will begin installing on your device. Simple.
That's basically all there is to it. Installing APKs opens up a whole new world of opportunity to give niche or hard-to-come-by apps a try. Have a go yourself and let us know how you get on in the comments.