Android’s application ecosystem has proven to be versatile and developer-friendly, after a bit of a slow start. You are free to develop an app for Android and publish it to the Play Store with just a few basic restrictions. This has led to a plethora of really cool Android apps, some of which aren’t available on iOS or other platforms. Running Android apps usually requires an Android smartphone or tablet — obviously! — but what if you currently use iOS or another mobile OS, and want to try out Android without actually getting an Android device?
ARC Welder for Chrome
Probably the easiest way to get Android apps running on your Windows PC is to use Google’s ARC Welder Chrome extension (ARC stands for App Runtime for Chrome). Since this is a Chrome extension, it’s not only restricted to Windows PCs — you could also use this method on a Mac. The process is much the same no matter which platform you’re using Chrome on. Simply head to the Chrome Web Store and grab the ARC Welder extension to get everything you need installed.ARC Welder is a beta tool, and it’s mainly directed at developers. Still, the process of loading an app is quite simple. It’s similar to the platform Google is using for running Android apps on Chrome, but without the Play Store.
When you’ve got your APK ready to go, you can open ARC Welder from Chrome and point it at the file. Then you just have to choose how you want the app to render — landscape/portrait, tablet/phone, and whether you want it to have clipboard access. Not every app will run, and some of those that do will be missing components. ARC Welder doesn’t currently have native support for Google Play Services
Apps and games that work tend to run very well in ARC. You should get almost full functionality from apps like Evernote, Instagram, and even Flappy Bird. You can only have one app installed in Chrome via ARC Welder at a time, so you need to go back to the install dialog whenever you want to change to a different one.
The sideloading requirement along with the limit of one app at a time makes ARC Welder less than ideal for running Android apps on Windows on a daily basis. However, if you just want to get one up and running for testing or just to play around, this should be your first stop.
The Android emulator
The next most straightforward way to get Android apps running on a PC is to go through the Android emulator released by Google as part of the official SDK. The emulator can be used to create virtual devices running any version of Android you want with different resolutions and hardware configurations. The first downside of this process is the somewhat complicated setup process.
Since there’s no Play Store, you’ll need to do some file management. Take the APK you want to install (be it Google’s app package or something else) and drop the file into the tools folder in your SDK directory. Then use the command prompt while your AVD is running to enter (in that directory) adb install filename .apk. The app should be added to the app list of your virtual device.
If you need to test something with the intention of putting it on other Android devices, the emulator is still the best way to give builds a quick once-over on a PC before loading them on to Android phones or tablets. It’s slow, but standardized, and you’ll be able to see how things will work on the real deal. The Android PC ports are definitely fun to play with, and performance is solid when you get apps running, but they can be finicky.
If you’re interested in getting more than a handful of apps running on your PC so you can actually use and enjoy them, BlueStacks App Player is the best solution. It’s fast, has Play Store access, and works on multitouch Windows devices. ARC Welder is also something to keep in mind if you only need to use one app at a time. The setup is easy and it’s completely free. If you actually want to use Android apps long-term on your PC, you might want to consider installing Remix OS. It’ll take time to get it working, but it’s a full Android-based OS for your PC.