The ability to run Android apps was a major feature when Windows 11 was first announced in the summer of 2021. A year after the release of Windows 11, they finally arrived in the first major update to the operating system. Sorry to say it, but it wasn’t worth the wait.
Everything about implementing Android apps in Windows 11 is embarrassing. Finding them, installing them, and the way many apps don’t adequately adapt to being used on a computer rather than a smartphone. But perhaps most compelling is that – for now at least – there is nothing worth installing in the first place.
Pain in the store
Android apps are currently being “previewed” in a number of geographies around the world, including the US and UK, and are only available to those who have installed the 2022 update, formerly known as 22H2.
Android apps are provided via Amazon Appstore, not Google Play, and this has huge implications for the selection of available apps, which we’ll get to soon. It has implications for the way these apps install and behave as well.
The first time you try to install an Android app from the Windows Store, two things will happen: Windows will spend a few minutes downloading and installing the Windows subsystem for Linux and then the Amazon Appstore.
Then, every time you click to install an Android app, you’re redirected to the Amazon Appstore – even if the app is free.
In addition to being a poor user experience, it puts other practical obstacles in the way. You will need an Amazon account to log into the App Store; And you can’t pay for Android apps with your Microsoft account, as payments are handled by Amazon.
When the apps are finally installed, they initially appear to behave like regular Windows Store apps. It pops up in the Start menu and can be pinned to the taskbar. It can be captured in different parts of the screen, played in full screen, or in a resizable window. They can be uninstalled from the same settings menu as any other application on the PC.
However, church and state-like divisions soon emerge. I downloaded the PDF Viewer and Reader app, for example, and used the app’s “folder” view to try to find a PDF file stored on my PC, but it can only be explored within the Android subsystem – the main Windows file system and Documents folders are off limits . Similarly, you cannot drag a PDF file from your desktop, for example, to an Android app. It just doesn’t work.
There may be good security reasons for this, but it’s a disaster for the user experience.
Wrong shape and size
Then we come to the broader problem with Android apps on big screens – they often look ugly. Android tablets have long struggled with apps designed only for smartphones, and the situation hasn’t improved much since adding Android app support to Chromebooks.
Many of the apps I installed – Tracker24, BBC News, Podcast Addict – were mobile apps that were clearly stretched to fit the big screen. It was functional, but it wasn’t a thought that these apps could be reformatted to take advantage of the larger displays. In the case of BBC News, it is a much less satisfying experience than simply visiting the BBC News website in a browser.
App developers will have to try harder if they want people to use their apps in Windows.
Finally, we come to the selection of available applications. Microsoft has had over a year to join the developers and if that’s all it’s been able to get hold of for launch (albeit in the form of a “preview”), it may give up now too.
Almost all the Android apps that I use daily on my phone are not in the Amazon Appstore for Windows. Big name apps are very hard to come by, especially in the gaming department, with Stardew Valley being the most popular app I can find. And this has been available on Windows for years.
Just take a look at Amazon Appstore’s “Featured Apps” (shown above) to see how awful the selection of apps is. We’ve waited a year for Android apps to arrive, and Solitaire and FreeCell—both pre-installed in Windows for the past 20 years—are highlights? seriously? This is your best?
Microsoft has long struggled to get people interested in the Windows Store. Based on this guide, adding Android apps won’t make a difference.
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