Use a third party keyboard with a (rooted) Amazon Kindle Fire

Amazon offers Kindle Fire users the opportunity to download and install thousands of third party apps from the Amazon Appstore. But there are some apps you won’t find there, including apps that require phone, camera, or microphone capabilities, because the Kindle Fire doesn’t have the hardware to support them.

You also won’t find alternate home screen/program launcher apps or alternate keyboard apps because Amazon wants to provide a cohesive experience for Kindle Fire users.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to use a third party keyboard instead of the official Kindle Fire keyboard. It just takes a little more work to set up than most apps.

Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: Root your Kindle Fire

While it’s possible to install some third party apps on the Kindle Fire without rooting the tablet, keyboards are special. You’re going to need certain file and folder permissions that aren’t available without rooting.

The good news is that it’s pretty easy to root the Kindle Fire. The short version is that you need to install the Android Software Developer Kit on your computer, then connect your Kindle Fire to a PC with a USB cable and run an app called SuperOneClick.

You can follow our step-by-step instructions for rooting the Kindle Fire to get started.

Step 2: Allow installation of third party apps

Before we move forward, we’ll also need to enable the installation of third party apps from sources other than the Amazon Appstore. This is even easier than rooting the tablet.

All you have to do is:

  1. Tap the settings icon in the Kindle Fire taskbar. It’s on the upper right corner of your tablet.
  2. This will bring up some quick settings, but you want to click the “More” option to view the full settings menu.
  3. Scroll down to the option that says “Device” and tap it.
  4. Tap the option that says “Allow installation of applications from unknown sources” so that “on” is highlighted in orange.

Now you can download apps from the internet and tap them from the download manager or a file browser to install them.

Step 3: Install NookColor Tools

While you can now install third party apps on the tablet, you still need to be able to bring up a settings option that will let you decide which keyboard to use once you’ve installed a new keyboard app. Amazon doesn’t make it easy to access that menu… but there’s a free app called NookColor Tools that will do the trick.

As you might have guessed, NookColor Tools was originally developed for use on the Barnes & Noble NOOK Color — and some of the settings may break things if you try to use them on the Kindle Fire. But you can use the app to simply (and safely) switch keyboard apps. We’ll show you how in a moment.

For now, just visit the NookColor Tools page at the xda-developers forum using a web browser on your Kindle Fire and tap the download link. Once the app is downloaded a notification should appear on your device. Tap the notification and then tap the APK installer to install NookColor Tools on your device.

Step 4: Install a keyboard

Now it’s time to install a third party keyboard app. You can search the internet for keyboard APK files using Google, the xda-developers forum, or an app store such as GetJar or SlideMe. Or you can install the Google Android Market to make it easier to access hundreds of thousands of apps including keyboard apps.

Some keyboards you might want to try include SwiftKey, Hacker’s Keyboard, SlideIT, or others. Some keyboards may not work on the Kindle Fire, but if after following then next few steps you run into problems, you can just run them in reverse to remove the keyboard.

For the rest of this tutorial, I’ll be working with the SwiftKey X keyboard trial from the Android Market.

Step 5: Move the Keyboard app to the /system/app directory

For the next step you’re going to need a file explorer than allows you to access your tablet’s root directories and allows you to mount read-only directories as read/write directories.

The best app for doing this is probably Root Explorer, but you may also be able to use ES File Explorer or some other file browsers.

After you’ve “installed” SwiftKey or another keyboard app in step 4, you’ll still need to take the following steps.

  1. Navigate to the /data/app directory on your Kindle Fire.
  2. Find the .apk file for the keyboard you just installed. You can probably do this by scanning for the app icon. The name may not be what you’d expect. For instance, SwiftKey shows up as “.com.touchtype.swiftkey.phone.trial-1.apk.”
  3. Copy that file and paste it into the /system/app directory. To do this you will need to make sure the /system/app directory is mounted as read/write.

Step 6: Reboot the Kindle Fire

Press and hold the power button on your Kindle Fire until a dialog box pops up asking if you want to shut down the Kindle. Choose the Shut Down box.

Once the tablet is powered off, press the power button again until the screen turns on and wait for the Kindle Fire to boot up.

Step 7: Use NookColor Tools to select your keyboard

Now you can go to the Apps menu on your Kindle Fire and tap the NookColor Tools icon to load the application.

Tap the “Choose Keyboard” button, and a window will open up asking you to select your input method. Just tap the keyboard you want to use, and next time you tap on a text box such as the Kindle Fire search bar, the new keyboard should appear.

You can change to a different keyboard at any time by navigating back to the NookColor Tools app and choosing a different keyboard.

Now you can replace the standard Kindle Fire keyboard with one that features better text-prediction technology, has a more comfortable layout, or allows you to enter text by sliding your finger across the screen instead of lifting your fingers after each tap.

via xda-developers

Latest Amazon Kindle Fire news and tips:

  • http://www.facebook.com/fraser.james James Fraser

    I love my Kindle so much I’ve decided to make a free book sharing community here http://www.freebookfeed.com Check it out if you’re interested…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kindle-Mad/100003132892098 Kindle Mad

    My wife and I love our new Kindle Fire.  It’s lightweight, easy to use and has a great interface.  The first thing I recommend anyone with a new Kindle do is install the nook app.  We got our instructions from http://www.kindlemad.com through google.   

    It basically unlocks all the Android marketplace apps and unlocks the device.  I am one very happy Kindle owner!

  • Tkoo

    followed your directions exactly and was able to select the different options for keyboard. i installed swype, slideit and swiftkey x. only the swiftkey x seems to work on the kindle as whenever i select the swpe or slideit option i keep getting a force close message until i select another keyboard option.

    • http://www.liliputing.com Brad Linder

      Yeah, that’s the same thing that happened when I tried the Ice Cream Sandwich keyboard. 

  • Geo_Dale

    This worked perfectly for me to install the SwiftKey Tablet X Keyboard on my Kindle Fire and I am loving it – No need to migrate the lib files. 

    However, I have also installed the Swype 3.26 apk and have had no luck with this one.  It installed fine, but will not show up in the NookColor Tools keyboard options.  I even copyied the lib file to the sys/lib folder as well and still no luck so there is no way to select the keyboad on the Fire.

    If anyone finds a solution, please post it.  Thanks.

    • carlgira

      You have also to set the right permisions of the apk. When you copy the file into /system/app set the permisions as the others files have on that directory ( you can do it with ” root explorer ” long press over the file , permiesions) . The right permisions are rw_r__r__.

      • Brian

        Well. It works initially, then after a reboot it throws a force close error. Looking to google for an answer.

    • Brian

      It looks like you need the .apk in both locations /data/app as well as /system/app with the permissions rw-r–r–

      This might be an extra step but… I ran the install off each apk in both system and data app so there is a double listing in data app of each apk but each keyboard works well now. Tested with Swiftkey Tablet X and Swype 3.26.

  • Aditya Vad

    Like the others on here, I can’t get it to work for anything accept Swiftkey x. Swype, Smart keyboard, Slideit, and a lot of other ones won’t work…

    • Ronalpert

      Did you ever get another keyboard to work?

  • Johan Horak

    Hi Thanks for writing this up. Unfortunately it’s not working for me as I don’t have this dir /system/app directory. I created it but no luck.

  • Denis Obydennykh

    Please, help.

    My /data is empty. Hidden files are set to be shown (tried es file manager and astro). No apk files are found. I don’t known where my market installed them.

    What can be the reason of the problem?

  • Denis Obydennykh

    Root Explorer says that my phone seems not to be rooted. But really it’s rooted! How can I fix it?

  • Guest

    I tried the swiftkey tablet x keyboard and it worked. A very nice keyboard, however when you are in keyboard mode there is no way to exit it without typing and hitting enter.

    The kindle keyboard has a button to minimize the keyboard and go back to previous screen which is a pretty convenient option if you open keyboard and realize you don’t want to send a message.

  • Ahmed

    Like Brian, it works however every time I reboot the kindle I have to re install the keyboard before I select it otherwise it force closes. Any thoughts?

  • Bob

    SlideIt worked for me after I installed it and then selected it with the Nook Tool as my keyboard.

  • Enigmabrand

    I installed SwiftKey X but now the bottom bar is gone (the one with the little ^ symbol that brings up the home button, etc). I switched back to the Kindle Keyboard but the home bar is forever missing. Help!

    • Enigmabrand

       Nevermind, I’m on crack.

  • http://goodevilgenius.org/ Dan Jones

    I tried this, and it didn’t work at all. The instructions here (
    http://www.addictivetips.com/mobile/install-alternate-keyboard-apps-on-kindle-fire-how-to/ ) did.

  • JamesWright

    Great!

    Now I could try to use a third party app keyboard on my device, very cool. I want to try a keyboard app by dextr and want to try out their beta version of it and how it work! It stated that “it’s easy as ABC” and saw a youtube video and saw it on an alphabetical order.

    Really want to try and learn from it! :)

  • K33K5

    My problem was this: after following these instructions carefully up to the point of installing my copy of Swiftkey 3 Tablet (S3T), then moving the .apk to /system/app and rebooting, the NookColor Tools would still show the Kindle Keyboard as the only option.

    1) I reviewed the comments and did as carlgira instructed, fixing the permissions for the .apk in /system/app. Rebooted. Didn’t work.

    2) Then I copied the .apk to /data/app as per Brian’s suggestion and adjusted permissions. Rebooted. Didn’t work.

    (I will note at this point that I also renamed the .apks, eliminating all spaces and replacing them with _. I have no idea if this did anything or not, but I figured I’d mention it in case it actually had some effect. Rebooted. Didn’t work.)

    3) I noticed that in the /data/app folder, after I installed S3T an .apk appeared named “com.touchtype.swiftkey.tablet.full-2.apk”, so I installed that, too (checked permissions). Rebooted. Success!

    So I have S3T installed 3 times over on my device, and it bugs out whenever I reboot. The only fix for that I’ve found is to re-install the app with Root Explorer every damn time the device reboots.

    I know I’m super late to this thread, but I figured better late than never.

  • Cameron LaPage

    Does it work with full version too?