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:
- Tap the settings icon in the Kindle Fire taskbar. It’s on the upper right corner of your tablet.
- This will bring up some quick settings, but you want to click the “More” option to view the full settings menu.
- Scroll down to the option that says “Device” and tap it.
- 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.
After you’ve “installed” SwiftKey or another keyboard app in step 4, you’ll still need to take the following steps.
- Navigate to the /data/app directory on your Kindle Fire.
- 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.”
- 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.