The Amazon Kindle Fire may look like a tablet designed only to access apps, music, movies, books, and periodicals from Amazon. But under the hood it’s an Android tablet, which means that it can run most apps designed for Android 2.3 and earlier. And it turns out it’s quite easy to install most of them.
Most users will probably be content with the Amazon Appstore, which offers about 20,000 apps and counting. But there are hundreds of thousands of apps for Android, and if you’re looking for an app that Amazon doesn’t offer, it may be easier than you think to install it.
Update: While the steps below will show you how to get more out of your Kindle Fire while using the software that comes with the tablet, you can also now erase Amazon’s Android software and replace it with CyanogenMod 7. That’s a custom version of Android 2.3 based on the Google Android Open Source Project.
You can follow our step-by-step instructions for doing that. Or you can follow the rest of this guide for ways to install apps or make other changes to the tablet without installing a custom ROM.
Enable Unknown Sources
The first thing you need to do if you want to install apps that don’t come from Amazon is to enable apps from unknown sources.
- Tap the settings icon in the taskbar at the top right corner of your Kindle Fire.
- Choose the “More” option.
- Choose “Device” from the bottom of the screen.
- Find the section that says “Allow installation of applications from unknown sources, and slide the switch to the “On” position.
Now you can download and install APK files on your tablet. You just have to find them.
Finding APK files on the web
The Amazon Appstore is one of the best alternatives to the Android Market, but it’s not the only one. You can install a number of third party app stores on your Kindle Fire if you want to widen the selection of available apps. The GetJar and SlideMe app stores are some of the best.
You can also simply search the web for the file you’re looking for. This is a little riskier, because you can’t always trust that you’re downloading a file that hasn’t been maliciously hacked in some way. But many Android developers offer APK downloads directly from their websites.
For instance, you can download the Grooveshark Mobile app from the developer website. Just visit the site in a mobile browser and when the download is complete, open your download manager and tap the .apk file to start the installation.
It’s also a good idea to keep a file explorer handy on your Kindle Fire so that you can easily find APK files stored on your device without using the download manager. One of my favorites is the free ES File Explorer, which you can use to navigate to your Download folder and tap any APK file to start the installer.
Copying files from your computer
You can also copy APK files from your computer to your tablet.
If you’ve downloaded any apps from the web, or have APK files from another device that you want to copy to the Kindle Fire, here’s all you need to do.
- Plug your Kindle Fire into a computer with a USB cable.
- If the screen shown above doesn’t automatically appear, tap the status bar at the top of your device and select the option that says “USB is Connected, Select to copy files to/from your computer.”
Your Kindle Fire should show up as a removable storage device on your computer, allowing you to manually copy files to and from the Kindle Fire using a file browser.
Changing the default app launcher
OK, now you have all the information you need to install third party apps that aren’t available in the App Store — but here’s something you may not have realized. That Amazon book case that greets you every time you turn on the tablet? It’s just an app called a Launcher.
If you’d rather have a different launcher that looks more like the Android interface seen on most phones and tablets, you can do that. You don’t even need to venture outside the Amazon Appstore.
All you need to do is download a free app called GO Launcher EX.
Update: Amazon has removed the download link for GO Launcher EX and most other third party app launchers. You can still access it from the Amazon Appstore on other devices, but not the Kindle Fire. But you can still add GO Launcher EX, Launcher Pro, Zeam Launcher or a different launcher.
If you’re planning to install the Android Market anyway, just skip ahead in our tutorial for instructions on adding the Android Market to your tablet and then search for launcher apps from the Market.
If not, you can also find apk installer files for GO Launcher EX and many other app launchers on the web. You can try downloading the latest APK by pointing your web browser to the Go Launcher search results at FileCrop.
Once it’s installed you can tap the home button on your Kindle Fire and choose between the Amazon launcher and the GO Launcher. You can also choose a default action so that you’ll never have to see the default launcher again if you don’t want to.
While the Amazon Kindle Fire launcher app has its charm, GO Launcher EX allows you to place widgets on your home screen for quick access to system settings, weather forecasts, or other data.
Installing the Android Market
OK, so there’ s a lot you can do to customize your Kindle Fire without installing the Android Market. But what if you really want to be able to access those hundreds of thousands of apps in Google’s marketplace?
Well, that takes a little more elbow grease, because you’ll need to root your tablet. Rooting allows you to access settings that aren’t normally available. In this case we need to change the read/write permissions for one file an one folder.
The downside of rooting the Kindle Fire is that you won’t be able to stream videos from Amazon Instant Video if your device is rooted. The good news is that unrooting the tablet is at least as easy as rooting it — and once you’ve installed the Android Market it will continue to work even if you remove root access.
We’ve already written detailed instructions for rooting the Amazon Kindle Fire. In a nutshell, you need to download the Android Software Developer Kit from Google, enable adb access for the Kindle Fire by modifying a few files from the SDK, and then use a utility called SuperOneClick to root the tablet.
Once you’ve done that, here are the steps for downloading and installing the Android Market.
- Download the Market app (as well as several other useful apps) from the links at the xda-developers forum.
- Use WinRar, 7-zip, or another utility to unzip the contents of that file, and copy any of the apps you want to your Kindle Fire using a USB cable.
- Make sure you have a file browser on your tablet (such as the ES File Explorer listed above) and use it to navigate to the directory on your Kindle Fire where you’ve placed those APK files.
- Tap the GoogleServicesFramework.apk file to start the installer.
- When that’s complete, reboot your Kindle Fire by pressing and holding the power button on the bottom and then choosing Shut Down. Once it’s turned off, press the power button again to restart the Kindle Fire.
- Use ES File Explorer to navigate to the directory again to install any of the app except the Market app.
Most of these apps won’t work properly unless you install the Google Service Framework app first, so make sure to go in order here.
Things get a little trickier when it comes to the Android Market app. I’m going to assume you’ve already rooted your tablet for this next set of instructions.
1. Download a file browser that can navigate root directories and change file and folder permissions. For the rest of this tutorial I’ll be using Root Explorer, which is available from the Android Market for $3.99. I know, you don’t have the Android Market yet… you can find this and other root file explorers from other places on the internet as well, but if you download a free copy I recommend paying the developer once you get into the Android Market as a way of saying thank you.
2. Use Root Explorer to navigate to the directory where you’ve unzipped your Market app.
3. Tap and hold the Market app until an Options menu pops up.
4. Choose the Copy or Move option.
5. Use the back button to go to the main directory of your Kindle Fire and then scroll down until you see the “system” folder.
6. Tap “system” to open the folder.
7. Now tap the folder that say “app” to open that folder.
8. At the top of the system you should see a button that says Mount R/W. Tap it to change the folder from read-only to read/write
9. Tap the Paste button at the bottom of the screen to place the app in this folder.
Now we still need to change the permissions of the Android Market app.
1. Tap and hold the Market app.
2. Choose “Permissions” from the options menu.
3. Change the permissions to look like all the other apps in this directory by checking the “Read” box in owner, group, and others, and the “Write” box in Owner. All the rest of the boxes should remain blank.
Once that’s done, you need to reboot your Kindle before you can use the Android Market.
The Android Market app also won’t show up in the default Kindle app launcher unless you take one more step. You can see it in GO Launcher EX or other app launchers though.
If you do want to be able to launch the Android Market from the Kindle Fire app launcher though, all you have to do is download the MarketOpener.apk file using the link at the xda-developers forum. This will add an app to your device called MarketOpener which opens the Android Market. It’s basically just a shortcut to the Market — but the Kindle Fire launcher recognizes it.
At this point it’s safe to unroot your device if you want to get access to Amazon’s Instant Video feature again. Just fire up the SuperOneClick app on your computer again, make sure your Kindle Fire is connected to your PC with a USB cable, and click the “Unroot” button. Make sure to wait until the process is finished before disconnecting your Kindle.
You’ll have to reboot your tablet one more time before you an use Amazon Instant Video.
Latest Amazon Kindle Fire news and tips:
- Amazon Appstore now has 240 thousand apps
- Amazon Appstore tops 200k apps, Prime has tens of millions of subscribers
- Original Kindle Fire gets an (unofficial) Android 4.4 KitKat update
- Kindle Fire software updates: Prime video downloads, instant “Mayday” support
- Deals of the Day (9-09-2013)