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Android Tip: Third Party App Stores

Mark Webb
United States
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Android Tip - Third Party App Stores
Some folks just use their smart phones. Not everyone geeks out over every technical detail -- browsing websites or listening to podcasts for the latest tidbit. So from time to time, I am going to throw in an Android tip that while not necessarily board game specific, will be useful for someone looking to play board games on their Android phones. To some this may be not new information, but it will be good to pass this info along.

On iOS, there is one place to install applications for your iDevice without jailbreaking it, and that is Apple's App Store. Likewise, when you get your Android phone or tablet home, Google's Android Market is ready for you to use to download your apps. But unlike iOS, on Android the official store is not your only option. There are other ways of putting apps on your device - legal and legitimate ways.

No voiding your warranty
No jailbreaking
No need for rooting
No use of an exploit to do it.

Android actually allows you to install apps by downloading from websites, opening email attachments, and by placing the application by placing it on the device or SD card when you attach the device to your computer, also called sideloading.

Android was designed to be open to allow that access. However, as we have seen on other platforms, such as Microsoft Windows, this can be a bit dangerous if you don't know where the application comes from. Is that email attachment a virus or just something from my friend? So Google put protections on that openness and by default, doesn't permit 3rd party installs. Those who are knowledgable can choose to turn that protection off with a simple flick of a checkbox, no hacking required.

Here is how...
Go into you device settings. Click Applications. There is a checkbox that says "Unknown Sources - Allow installation of non-market applications." Make sure this box is checked. That's it. Now that the protection is off, now let's see where we can get apps.

Amazon App Store
Amazon is trying to become a large player with Android. Amazon has an MP3 music store and Kindle book store and reader that come preinstalled on many phones. There is even rumor that Amazon will be releasing their own Android tablets later this year. They opened the Amazon App Store as an alternative to the Android Market. It has a good portion of the apps that the Google Market does. The difference being that Amazon controls the pricing and deals with developers. So, if you are interested in saving a few cents, you may want to comparison shop between the Google's and Amazon's stores to find the best price. To drive traffic to their store over the Android Market, they have two bigger draws. First, Amazon offers one paid app per day for free. They pay the developer the cost, and anyone lucky enough to download it that day gets the app gratis. Second, they offer some apps as exclusives, ones that are only available in the Amazon store, such as Angry Birds Rio, which premiered in the Amazon App Store for a couple weeks before joining the Android Market.

After Google and Amazon, the remaining competition has only small niche areas to cover. Most aren't remarkable, except when they catch some exclusive app deals.

GetJar is another site who also has scored the occasional exclusive app. They recently offered Cut the Rope, a popular iOS game, ad supported and free a week before it entered the Android Market as a paid app. It is still the only place to get it ad supported. GetJar started as a site for other phone OS apps such as Java phones, Pocket PC, Blackberry, and Palm OS. The most notable feature of GetJar is that all of its apps are free.

Handmark does not have a lot to offer in number of apps. They too have existed previously for other platforms prior to Android. Some of their apps have been exclusives that they had deals with for a long time due to their being on previous platforms. Most notable are the availability of the EA/Hasbro board game offerings, such as Monopoly, Game of Life, and Scrabble. However, even though these games are available, they seem to be older apps, that were specified which platforms they can run on.

For example, only Game of Life works on my HTC Evo, which shows the other games available on older Android platforms, but disappear when I specify the Evo, which is necessary to download the app. It does look like there is an effort to revamp some of the Hasbro apps, since a new version of Scrabble has hit the Android Market this week (more info on that in another post). So the need to check out Handmark may be starting to go away.

Handango yet another app store. This store also a remnant from the Pocket PC and Palm OS days, For them, I think their website is organized well, but not really anything that you can't get on any other of the stores.

AppBrain is not really an app store, It uses the Android Market for its apps, however, AppBrain does need the 3rd party access because of what it does. AppBrain is a combination of website and app that allows a person to tell the world what apps are on his or her phone.

You then can browse people who do this, or even follow users you may know. So when you access AppBrain, it will allow you to see a list of apps someone has, find a good one, and click, you buy/install it. This is great for discovery of apps. I am wwwebb on App Brain, and I will be shortly creating a user to follow which will have the board game apps we mention on this blog.

So that is a quick rundown of some of Android's 3rd party app stores. After you enable the ability to install non-market apps, you can install from any website offering an Android app. Some developers even give beta apps out via a website link to install this way. Or you can even install something developed by someone you know who gives you the file. That one setting makes that all possible.
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