Microsoft spent years trying to make its own mobile operating system work, but that’s in the past, and now it’s all-in with Android.
Microsoft makes Android-powered Surface phones, helps you connect Android devices to Windows, and you can even install Android apps in Windows 11. However, the partnership with Amazon’s Appstore provides access to only a handful of useful Android apps. If you want more Android power in Windows 11, you can “sideload” other apps in just a few steps.
Getting set up
Before you develop any fanciful ideas about running every Android app under the sun, you should check your system specs. The Windows Subsystem for Android requires at least 8GB of RAM, but 16GB is recommended. Your PC also needs a relatively modern processor in the form of an 8th-gen Intel Core i3, AMD Ryzen 3000, Snapdragon 8c, or newer. On the storage front, Windows 11 needs to be installed on an SSD rather than a spinning hard drive.
Even if you don’t want to use Amazon as your app provider, you’ll have to grab that from the Windows Store to get the prompt to enable the Windows Subsystem for Android (WSA). The PC will reboot after installing the WSA, but you’re not done yet.
To sideload apps, you have to go into the WSA settings to enable Developer mode, which is under the “Developer” tab. On this same screen, you should make note of the internal IP address, which you will need later. Note that the IP address may only appear when the Android Subsystem is running.
Finding Android apps
Even if Windows 11 had access to the full catalog of the Amazon Appstore, pickings would be slim. As it stands, you only get a subset of Amazon’s apps. If you want to install something from outside the Appstore, you’ll need to get your hands on the APK file. You’ve got two options: download apps from a reputable source or save APKs from an Android phone.
If you have an Android phone, grabbing the APK from your installed app list is the safest way. You’ll need an APK extractor app like ML Manager to do that, but you can save and share the file to your PC without worrying about the source.
Even if you do have an Android device, downloading APKs from a trusted online source can be worthwhile. You can sometimes get apps that aren’t hosted in the Play Store, as well as older versions of apps that have been changed or updated with undesirable features. APK Mirror and F-droid are both good, trustworthy options to download free apps. If you want paid apps that aren’t in Amazon’s store, you’ll have to raise the Jolly Roger and engage in software piracy, which makes it much more likely you’ll pick up malware.
In order to install your APK files, you need to tinker around with a command prompt tool known as the Android Debugging Bridge (ADB). Download the Platform Tools from Google’s site. Open a command prompt or terminal from the folder where you’ve saved Google’s platform tools, and then you’re ready to connect to your virtual Android system.
First, use the command adb connect ip_address, replacing the “IP address” with the one you copied above. With that done, you can use adb devices to verify that ADB is connected to the Android subsystem. (You can see examples of these commands in action in the picture above.) Again, this only works when WSA is running.
With your PC and Android subsystem connected, you can use adb install file_path, replacing “file path” with the actual file path to the APK you previously downloaded. (Again, see the image above for an example.) We’re using the Twitter app as a test here, but it should work the same for any APK. Not all apps will work correctly in the Android subsystem, which is still just a preview feature.
After installing your Android app, it will appear in your Windows Start menu app list like any native Windows app. This is a bit of a drawback as you won’t be able to tell Windows and Android apps apart at a glance. However, uninstalling is a snap and doesn’t require a command line. Simply find the app in Start, right-click, and choose uninstall. If sideloading adventures go sideways and you suspect you’ve broken something or installed malware, you can simply uninstall the WSA for Android like you would an app and start from scratch.