Sideloading Google Play apps onto a Kindle Fire

March 15, 2012

I recently turned 30. My wonderful wife and mother got together and purchased a Kindle Fire tablet for me to go along with the Samsung Captivate Android phone I currently own. While some apps are better on the tablet than the phone, there are some I like to have on both like TinyShark. Sadly, not all apps available in Google Play are available in the Amazon App Store and there's no easy way to get access to the former from a Kindle without rooting it. So, I did some digging and managed to find an alternate way to sideload them, no rooting required.

Obligatory disclaimer: I'm not responsible for any damage that might occur by following these instructions. Use them at your own risk. Also, be aware that being able to install an app from Google Play onto a Kindle doesn't mean that the app will work on the Kindle. (An example of this is the app for Google Play itself, which immediately dies when you try to run it.) This is due to any number of differences in hardware, Android implementations, etc.

Here's what you'll need:

  • A Kindle Fire
  • An Android device* with access to Google Play, like my Captivate
  • A computer with the Android SDK installed

* It's possible that an emulator run using the SDK can be used in place of an actual device.

On the Android device, install whatever app you want to sideload onto your Kindle, then go to Settings > Applications > Development and check the USB debugging option. Now hook the Android device to the computer with a micro USB cable.

On the computer, open up a terminal and go to the platform-tools subdirectory within the SDK directory. Run this command (which I got from this post), which uses the adb utility:

adb shell pm list packages -f

Each line of the command's output will be in this format:

package:[path]=[namespace]

Open up a web browser and go to the page on Google Play for the app you want to sideload. The URL of that page will look like https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=[namespace] where [namespace] will match the [namespace] portion of a line from the command's output. Note the corresponding [path] portion of this line.

Now go back to the terminal and run this command, substituting the path you found for [path]:

adb pull [path]

This will copy the APK file from the Android device to the computer.

Unplug the micro USB cable from the Android device and plug it into the Kindle. You may need to disconnect and reconnect the computer's end of the cable to allow it to mount the Kindle as a storage device, which should happen automatically.

On the Kindle, hit the gear icon on the top right, select More > Device, and make sure Allow Installation of Applications From Unknown Sources is turned on. Now hit the Home button at the bottom of the screen, then Apps near the top, then Store on the top right. Search for and install the ES File Explorer app.

From the computer, use a filesystem browser to access the mounted Kindle storage and copy the APK file from the computer to a directory on the Kindle. I used the Documents directory. Back on the Kindle, open the newly-installed ES File Explorer. It should give you access to the directory on the Kindle where you copied the APK file and allow you to open and install it.

Open your sideloaded app on your Kindle and enjoy it!

Update #1, 3/28/12: This post was linked in the PCWorld article "Get More Out of Your Kindle Fire Tablet: Five Tips." It's got some good information and I recommend giving it a read.

Update #2, 9/10/12: Forbes contributing author Adrian Kingsley-Hughes linked this post in his own post "Something Everyone Should Know Before Pre-Ordering a Kindle Fire HD."

Update #3, 10/3/12: ereaderguides on YouTube published a video guide on installing third-party apps on the Kindle Fire HD and linked to this post in the video description.

Update #4, 10/26/12: Spiegel Online, a German news source, linked to this post from their review of a Kindle Fire HD.