Android apps install to the internal storage by default, but you can also set the SD card as your default install location. This trick allows you to move almost any app to the SD card – no root access required.
This tweak requires Android 2.2 or later. To change the default install location, you’ll need to use the ADB, or Android Debug Bridge, utility included with Google’s Android SDK.
Enable USB Debugging
First, you’ll need to enable USB debugging on your Android device. Open the Settings screen, tap Applications, and select Development.
Tap the USB Debugging checkbox to enable it. This will enable debug mode, allowing you to change the settings on your Android device from your computer. You may want to disable debug mode after completing this process.
Install the Android SDK
You’ll need to download and install Google’s Android SDK on your computer. If you don’t already have Oracle’s Java JDK installed on your computer, you’ll have to download and install it before installing the Android SDK.
After you’ve installed both the JDK and Android SDK, launch the SDK Manager from your Start menu.
The ADB utility isn’t installed by default. It’s included in the Android SDK Platform-tools package – select this package and click the Install button to download and install it.
After the process completes, connect your Android device to your computer with its included USB cable. Windows should locate the device and install the appropriate drivers automatically. If it doesn’t, you may have to download and install the appropriate drivers from your Android device’s manufacturer. Do not mount the device after connecting it – just plug it in.
Open a Windows Explorer window and navigate to the android-sdk\platform-tools folder. On Windows, you’ll find this folder at C:\Program Files (x86)\Android\android-sdk\platform-tools by default. Check C:\Program Files\Android\android-sdk\platform-tools if you’re using a 32-bit version of Windows.
Launch a Command Prompt window in this folder by pressing and holding the Shift button, right-clicking in the folder, and selecting Open command window here.
Run the adb devices command and you should see your connected Android device.
Run the following command to set the default install location to your SD card:
adb shell pm setInstallLocation 2
If you want to revert this change later and install apps to the internal storage by default, run this command:
adb shell pm setInstallLocation 0
0 represents your device’s internal storage, and is the default. 2 represents the external storage, whether it’s an SD card or USB storage.
Moving Apps to SD Card
Apps that refused to leave your system storage can now be moved to the external storage. For instance, below you’ll see screenshots of the Slacker Radio app. Before the change was made, the Move to USB Storage button was grayed out. After the change was made, the button is enabled and the app can be moved.
To move an app to the SD card, open the Settings screen, tap Applications, and select Manage Applications. Select the app you want to move and tap the Move button on its details screen.
Some apps shouldn’t be installed to your SD card and should remain installed on the internal storage. The external storage is unavailable when your Android device is mounted on your computer, so apps that remain running all the time should be left on your internal storage. Widgets, launchers, animated wallpapers, and anything you want to use while your Android’s SD card is mounted on your computer should be left on the internal storage.
For more tips on freeing up space, check out our list of ways to free up space on Android.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 05/23/12