How to Open, Edit, and Convert APK Files

A file with the APK file extension is an Android Package file that’s used to distribute applications on Google’s Android operating system.

APK files are saved in the ZIP format and are typically downloaded directly to Android devices, usually via the Google Play store, but can also be found on other websites.

Some of the content found in a typical APK file includes an AndroidManifest.xml, classes.dex, and resources.arsc file; as well as a META-INF and res folder.

How to Open an APK File

APK files can be opened on a number of operating systems but they’re used mainly on Android devices.

Open an APK File on Android

To open an APK file on your Android device just requires that you download it like you would any file, and then open it when asked. However, APK files installed outside of the Google Play store might not install right away because of a security block put into place.

To bypass this download restriction and install APK files from unknown sources, navigate to Settings > Security (or Settings > Application on older devices) and then put a check in the box next to Unknown sources. You might have to confirm this action with an OK.

If the APK file doesn’t open on your Android, try browsing for it with a file manager like Astro File Manager or ES File Explorer File Manager.

Open an APK File on Windows

You can open an APK file on a PC using either Android Studio or BlueStacks. For example, if using BlueStacks, go into the My Apps tab and then choose Install apkfrom the bottom right corner of the window.

Open an APK File on a Mac

ARC Welder is a Google Chrome extension that’s meant for testing Android apps for the Chrome OS, but it works on any OS. This means you can open an APK on your Mac or Windows computer so long as you have this app installed within the Chrome browser.

Open an APK File on iOS

You cannot open or install APK files on an iOS device (iPhone, iPad, etc) because the file is built in an entirely different manner than apps used on those devices, and the two platforms are not compatible with each other.

You can also open an APK file in Windows, macOS, or any other desktop operating system, with a file extractor tool. Since APK files are simply archives of multiple folders and files, you can unzip them with a program like 7-Zip or PeaZip to see the different components that make up the app.

Doing that, however, does not let you actually use the APK file on a computer. To do so requires an Android emulator (like BlueStacks), which essentially runs the Android OS on the computer.

How to Convert an APK File

Though a file conversion program or service is normally necessary to convert one file type to another, they’re not very useful when dealing with APK files. This is because an APK file is an application that is meant to run on specific devices only, unlike other file types like MP4s or PDFs that work on a variety of platforms.

Instead, if you want to convert your APK file to ZIP, you’d use the instructions explained above. Either open the APK file in a file extraction tool and then repackage it as a ZIP, or simply rename the .APK file to .ZIP.

Renaming a file like this is not how you convert the file. It only works in the case of APK files because the file format is already using ZIP but it’s just appending a different file extension (.APK) to the end.

Like already mentioned above, you cannot convert an APK file to IPA for use on iOS, nor can you convert APK to EXE to use the Android app in Windows.

However, you can normally find an iOS alternative that works in place of the Android app that you want to be installed on your iPhone or iPad. Most developers have the same app available on both platforms (both an APK for Android and an IPA for iOS).

As for the APK to EXE converter, just install a Windows APK opener from above and then use it to open the Android app on your computer; it doesn’t need to exist in the EXE file format for that to work.

You can convert your APK file to BAR for use with a BlackBerry device by just uploading the APK file to the Good e-Reader online APK to BAR converter. Wait for the conversion to finish and then download the BAR file back to your computer.

BlueStacks App Player

If you’re looking to get multiple apps and games up and running on your computer with the minimum of effort, BlueStacks is your friend. The BlueStacks App Player presents itself as just a way to get apps working, but it actually runs a full (heavily modified) version of Android behind the scenes. Not only that, but it has the Play Store built-in, so you have instant access to all of your purchased content. It actually adds an entry to your Google Play device list, masquerading as an Android device.

The BlueStacks client will load up in a desktop window with different app categories like games, social, and so on. Clicking on an app or searching does something unexpected — it brings up the full Play Store client as rendered on tablets. You can actually navigate around in this interface just as you would on a real Android device, which makes it clear there’s a lot more to BlueStacks than the “App Player” front end. In fact, you can install a third-party launcher like Nova or Apex from the Play Store and set it as the default. The main screen in BlueStacks with the app categories is just a custom home screen, so replacing it makes BlueStacks feel almost like a regular Android device.

Bluestacks playing Lumino City.

Having full Play Store access means you won’t be messing around with sideloading apps, and BlueStacks manages to run apps pretty well. Most games are playable, but keep in mind you’ll have trouble operating many of them with a mouse. If your PC has a touch screen, you can still use apps and games that rely on more than one touch input. BlueStacks can essentially make a Windows tablet PC into a part-time Android tablet. BlueStacks calls the technology that makes this possible “LayerCake” because Android apps run in a layer on top of Windows.

The only real issue with BlueStacks is that it’s not running a standard Android build. All the alterations the company made to get apps working on a PC can cause issues — some apps fail to run or crash unexpectedly. This customized environment is also of little value as a development tool because there’s no guarantee things will render the same on BlueStacks as they might on a real Android device without all the back-end modifications. It’s also a freemium service with a $2 pro subscription, or you can install a few sponsored apps.

Android PC ports

If you don’t mind a little extra hassle, you can have a more fluid Android app experience by installing a modified version of the OS on your PC. There are a few ports of Android that will run on desktop PCs, but not all systems will be able to run them properly. The two leading choices for a full Android installation on PC are the Android-x86 Project  and Remix OS (pictured above), which is based on x86. There’s also an “app player” version of Remix that runs within Windows, but I’ve found it to be extremely temperamental.

Neither one is in a perfect state, but Remix OS is a little more fleshed out. Remix requires at least 2GB of RAM and a 2GHz dual-core processor, but practically you’ll need more than that for good performance. The UI is not stock Android — it’s based on the x86 project code, but has been modified for a more desktop-like experience. That might actually be preferable, though. You could install either over top of Windows, but that’s not the best idea. The smarter way would be to create a separate hard drive partition and install Android there. The Remix installer will help you do that.

If you don’t want to install Android on your PC, you can try running one of these operating systems in VirtualBox, which should be a little faster than the official Android emulator. It probably still won’t be good enough for games, but most apps should install and run correctly (BlueStacks is faster at this). There’s no Google Play integration when you install Android ports, but sideloading Play Services is fairly simple with Remix.

So what’s the best way?

If you need to test something with the intention of putting it on other Android devices, the emulator is still the best way. This is best suited to developers as the configuration and management of apps is complicated. It’s slow, but 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. I think it’s still the best of the “app players” for Windows. 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.

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