What’s an APK?


If you've been around the Android block a few times, you might have encountered the term “APK file.” The name itself sounds pretty techie, but in truth, an APK file is quite simple to understand and super easy to download and use. Why would you want to do that? How do you do that? What is an APK file anyway? We've got all the answers to that and more.

What is an APK File?

APK stands for Android Package Kit. And in order to explain what it is and what it does, let's look at a more familiar example. Anyone that's ever downloaded a programme to their computer is familiar with the .exe extension. If, for example, you want to download Skype to your computer, you go online, hit the Skype web page, hit the download button, and download a file which is called something like Skype.exe. You'll then click on that file to open it and the programme will begin setting itself up on your PC.

Essentially, an APK file is exactly the same thing as a .exe file, except for your phone. Every time you download something from the Google Play store, you're actually downloading an APK file which your mobile automatically opens and adds to your mobile. However, you can also find APK files outside of the Google Play store, in which case if you download them your phone won't automatically make them run, you'll need to install them yourself.

Why Would I Want an APK File?

To be blunt, most people won't. For most people, the apps on offer in the Play Store are more than enough, and they have no interest in customising their phone any further. However, there are some advantages to downloading and using APK files from outside of the Play Store.

Firstly, there's the obvious one: you get access to apps and programmes that aren't in the Store. This is a tricky one. Google are pretty forgiving about which apps they allow into their store, so if a certain app isn't in the store there could be a good reason (it doesn't work, it contains malware, etc.). In some cases though this is just a question of location, since some apps aren't in the Play Store in some countries.

An APK file can also allow you to get updates sooner than you would otherwise get them. Android updates release to manufacturers at different times, for example, so downloading an APK could mean getting that new Android version faster.

Finally, if you happen to have a rooted phone, then downloading APK files will allow you to further customise your mobile. However, for most people, it's accessing non-Google Play Store apps and faster updates that's the real draw.

A Word of Warning

Before we tell you how to open and install APK files, a word of warning. The Google Play Store vets all apps before including them. If you download an APK from elsewhere you should be VERY sure that the source is trustworthy. Downloading and installing APK files from unknown sources can result in malware, viruses, and a phone that no longer does what you need it to do. Also be aware that whilst updates from, say, Android are likely to be trustworthy, there may be a chance that the update in question hasn't been optimised for your phone model yet, meaning it won't work as it should do.

If you're thinking about downloading APK files there is a risk. However, the actual technical side of it is very simple.

How to Use APK Files

First, you'll need to hop on your computer. Browse and find the APK file or files that you want (you'll find some in the Google Play Store as well, these are trusted sources, elsewhere you'll need to do your research and find out whether the files are good or not). Download the file or files you want to your computer.

Now go to your phone. The first thing you need to do is head to the settings menu, go to “security,” then check the box next to “unknown sources” to allow your phone to accept downloads outside of the Google Play Store. Then plug your mobile into your computer. If your phone flashes up a message asking “charge phone or use as media device” select “use as media device.”

All you need to do now is copy and paste the file from the downloads folder of your PC to any folder you like on your phone. Once you've done that, double click on the file that's in your phone and choose “install,” and you're done. You should now be able to open and use the programme on your mobile.

The reason we tell you to do this through your PC is that you're likely to have fairly good anti-virus software on your computer, which should hopefully lessen the risk of things going badly (most anti-virus programmes automatically scan downloads). However, if you're really confident that the file you're downloading is good, or you run decent anti-virus on your phone, then you can skip the computer step.

To download from your mobile, first ensure that “unknown sources” are allowed through the settings/security menu. Open your phone's browser, find the APK you want, and download it. You should then find that file in your “downloads” folder on your mobile. Tap the download, hit “yes” to the prompt that pops up, and you're good to go.

Using APK Files

Using APK files is a lot simpler than you might think, and there are some advantages. But again, there are certain risks as well. An APK might give you a great new app, or a sweet new update, but it might also give you a virus, or even be stolen software. Do your research first, and don't download anything sketchy!

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