Although not a particularly well-advertised feature, the Amazon Fire TV and Amazon Fire TV Stick allow sideloading of Android apps. With a little effort, you can easily load apps on your Fire TV that aren’t available on the Amazon app store.
Note: This tutorial covers downloading Android apps on Fire TV devices and not Amazon’s Kindle Fire line of tablets; If you are looking for a way to download apps on your Kindle Fire, check out this guide.
Why do I want to do this?
Amazon Fire TV and TV Stick are beefy Android-based streaming devices that pack a lot of power into a small size. Have no doubt though that Amazon designed the devices to be very focused on the Amazon ecosystem and there is a strong push for you to only use apps from the Amazon Appstore.
While the Amazon Appstore has a wide selection of apps, there are two big problems Fire TV owners run into. First, despite the size of the app store, it does not compare to the Google Play store and there are many, Many, the applications are only available through Google Play. There are many developers who simply haven’t chosen to transfer their apps to the app store (or the apps contain something that was banned by Amazon).
RELATED: HTG reviews Amazon Fire TV: robust hardware prepared for the Amazon ecosystem
Second, even when the app you want is available on the Amazon Appstore, if it’s not approved for use on the Fire TV lineup, you can’t download it. Kodi, the media center software formerly known as XBMC, is a perfect example of this. It’s on the Amazon app store as a general Android download, but you can’t download and install it on Fire TV devices (but those devices can, in fact, run it).
Fortunately for you, us, and anyone else looking to sideload apps onto their Fire TV, we can take advantage of the developer options included with Fire TV and Fire TV Stick to sideload any Android app we want.
What I need?
There are two approaches to downloading apps to your Amazon Fire TV or Fire TV device, and both rely on different Android Developer Bridge (ADB) implementations.
The first technique is to use your computer’s command line interface to push Android installation files (APKs) directly to your device. This approach is useful if you have archived APKs on your computer and/or downloaded an APK from a developer’s website and want to upload it directly from your computer to your Fire TV.
To follow the command line technique, you will need a copy of ADB installed on your computer. To install the developer kit, which includes ADB, and the appropriate drivers, see our tutorial How to install and use ADB, the Android Debug Bridge utility.
RELATED: How to install and use ADB, the Android debugging bridge utility
The second technique is quite clever and convenient: using a helper app on an Android device to move installed apps directly from your device to the Fire TV. From a convenience point of view, there is nothing better than choosing the app directly from your phone or tablet and installing it on your Fire TV.
There are a handful of apps on the Google Play store that offer Android to Fire transfer, but we had the best luck with the Apps2Fire app; You can download it here. Although you never directly see it in action, Apps2Fire and similar apps are just wrappers for ADB.
Both techniques get the job done, it’s just a matter of which technique works best for your situation. If you already have the app ready to go on your phone (or you can easily download it from the Play Store), it makes sense to use Apps2Fire and transfer it directly from your device to the Fire. If you downloaded the app from the developer’s website or from a developer forum like XDA Developers, it makes more sense to launch ADB and transfer it from your PC.
Let’s see how to prepare your Fire TV for downloaded apps and then how to use the two techniques. All the steps in this tutorial are completely interchangeable between Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick; the only difference between the two is that the Fire TV has more processing power than the Fire Stick and will deliver superior performance for any CPU-intensive app you send.
Preparing the Amazon Fire TV
Although the ability to download apps on Fire TV devices isn’t particularly promoted in any way, it’s not difficult to enable the ability to do so. Start your Fire TV and navigate to Settings -> System.
Inside the System menu, scroll down until you find the sub-menu entry labeled “Developer Options.” Note that the subtext highlights exactly what the Developer Options are for “Enable ADB connections over the network”.
Update, 6/24/22: The Developer Options menu was hidden after Amazon pushed out a Fire TV update. However, you can still reveal the developer options by accessing the “About” menu and then selecting the device name seven times.
Within the Developer Options menu, you will find two switches that need to be turned on: “ADB Debugging” and “Applications from Unknown Sources”.
The first option activates ADB binding so you can remotely connect the Android debugging client to your Fire unit. The second option allows the installation of non-app store apps (all apps you transfer via ADB link will be treated as “Unknown Sources” regardless of whether or not they are unique apps you created yourself or apps approved from conventional Android app stores).
Finally, before you drop off your Fire drive, you’ll need to verify the drive’s IP address. The easiest way to do this is to navigate to Settings -> System -> About and then select “Network”.
Take note of the “IP Address” entry, as this is the address you will need for the next two techniques. Also note that if you restart your Fire device and have not specified a static IP address for it, this address may change if the DHCP server assigns a new one. Any time you push new apps to your Fire device, be sure to review this section and confirm the IP address.
Once you’ve changed the above two settings and identified your device’s IP address, it’s time to move on to loading apps. Let’s look at the two methods in detail.
Side loading with ADB
If your application is located on your computer, it is easy to download it with ADB. Let’s see how to use the command line to start the ADB server, connect to the Fire drive, and remotely deliver the APK payload. All of the steps below assume you already have ADB installed (and if you don’t, check out our guide here).
Load a command prompt into the directory where your APK is stored (e.g. Documents/Downloads/) and enter the following commands where XXXX is the IP address of your Fire unit on the local network and someapp.apk is the filename actual version of the APK you want to install on the device.
adb boot server
adb connect XXXX
adb install some app.apk
Note that if you get the error “Error: more than once device or emulator”, which occurs if there is more than one device connected to ADB (such as an Android phone connected to your computer), you can restrict the command like this.
adb install -s XXXX: 5555 install some app.apk
Once you issue the command, sit back and relax. It can take anywhere from a few seconds to 10 minutes or more, depending on the size of the file. When the process is complete, you will get an echo of the APK name, the average transfer speed, and a “Success” message.
If you receive the error message INSTALL_FAILED_OLDER_SDK, this is because the APK file you tried to install on the Fire device is for a higher version of Android than the one the Fire is running. As of this tutorial, the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick are still running Fire OS 3.0 (which has app compatibility with Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2).
Before we look at what to do next on the Fire side, let’s see how to accomplish the same thing by transferring an app from your Android phone or tablet to your Fire.
Sideload from your Android device
One of the biggest complaints we hear is that people already have an app on their phone or tablet and they want to have it on their Fire device. The whole Amazon Appstore/Google Play store parallel paradigm is certainly frustrating and this trick allows you to easily transfer an app from your phone to your Fire.
First, download and install Apps2Fire from the Google Play store here. Launch the app and then tap the menu button on the top left corner.
Within the menu, select “Settings” and on the next screen enter the IP address of your Fire device.
Once you click save, you will have two options to transfer apps. First, you can click the + symbol on the top right corner of the screen and select any APK file on your Android device through the file browser. The APK you select through this method is not No it must be an app already installed on your device, which means any APK you downloaded and saved to your device is fair game.
The second method is to select an app that you have downloaded and installed from the Google Play store. To do so, tap the menu button again and select “Load apps”.
Select any app by tapping on it and it will transfer automatically.
Unfortunately, unlike the command line ADB tool, the Apps2Fire app does not have a feedback mechanism for version failures; if you upload a new app that is not compatible with Android 4.2.2, there is no error message and you only know that the installation failed because the app never shows up on the Fire device.
That said, it is a very easy way to transfer applications without the need to work with the command line. Let’s take a look at where to find your apps once you’ve transferred them to your Fire device.
Launch your apps on the Fire TV
Once the apps are installed on Fire TV, it’s just a matter of finding them. Unfortunately, they don’t appear in the top-level “Apps” category in the main Fire TV menu. Instead, in the Settings menu -> Apps.
Once there, select “Manage installed apps” to get a list of all installed apps. Find the app you pressed (either through the ADB command line or the Apps2Fire app) and select it by pressing the middle button on your Fire TV remote (or input on your keyboard if you’re using one).
In the application submenu, select “Run Application”. Your app will launch as it would on any other Android device.
That’s all about it! Not all apps make the jump seamlessly from a touch-enabled device like a tablet to the TV-centric Fire TV system, but many apps work fine without any tweaking (while others require the use of a controller or keyboard for full functionality). However, it doesn’t cost anything to try an app you already have, so if you want the app on your TV through the Fire, give it a try.
Do you have an urgent question about Fire TV, Chromecast or other media streaming device? Email us at [email protected] and we will do our best to help you.