Android developers can restrict their apps to certain devices, countries, and minimum versions of Android. However, there are ways around these restrictions, allowing you to install apps marked as “not compatible with your device.”
Note that these tricks are all unsupported by Google. These tricks require fooling Google Play, and many require root. Some of these tricks may not work properly, as Google doesn’t want us doing these things.
Image Credit: Dru Kelly on Flickr
Why Are Apps Incompatible?
Android developers can restrict their apps in a variety of ways:
- Some apps are marked as only being compatible with certain phones or tablets. However, they may run just fine on unsupported devices.
- Other apps are only allowed to be installed in certain countries. For example, you can’t install the Hulu Plus app outside the USA, and some online-banking apps are only available in the bank’s country.
- All apps have a minimum version of Android they require. For example, Google’s Chrome browser requires Android 4.0 or higher.
Bear in mind that simply installing an incompatible app won’t necessarily make it work. Some apps may actually be incompatible with your device, while other apps (like Hulu) will only work when used within the US (or with a US VPN or DNS service like Tunlr.)
Note that you won’t see incompatible apps when searching via Google Play on your Android smartphone or tablet. They just won’t appear in the search results. You will see incompatible apps when searching on the Google Play website.
Bypass Device Restrictions
Android devices include a build.prop file that identifies the model of the device. if you have a rooted Android device, you can edit the build.prop file and make your device appear to be another device entirely. This will allow you to install apps that are marked as compatible with the other device.
Note that you’ll need to be rooted to use this trick. We have previously shown you how to easily root Nexus devices with WugFresh’s Nexus Root Toolkit. The process will be different for other devices.
We have already described how to edit your build.prop file manually, but there’s now an easier way. The new Market Helper app allows you to spoof another device without editing your build.prop file. It’s much easier, faster, and safer. (However, bear in mind that it also requires root.)
This app isn’t available in Google Play, so you’ll have to grab it from the developer’s website and sideload it. Once it’s installed, open the app and you’ll be able to spoof a popular device like a Samsung Galaxy S3 or a Nexus 7. You can then install apps compatible with that device. After you’re done, you can restart your device and it will appear to be itself again.
Bear in mind that apps marked as incompatible may actually be incompatible with your device, so some apps may not work properly after you install them.
Tricks for Installing Country-Restricted Apps
Some apps are only available in certain countries. If you have forgotten to install your bank’s app before travelling or you want to install a video or music-playing app that’s not available in your country, you may be able to fool Google into thinking your device is actually in another country.
We have used these tricks in the past to install US-only apps from outside the US. However, none of these tricks worked for us when we tried them while composing the article. It’s possible that Google is sure our account is outside the US because we have paid with a non-US payment method on Google Play. However, we have included these tips in the hopes that they may still work for some of you.
If you do manage to install a country-restricted app, it will become linked to your account, allowing you to install it on your other devices without requiring any tricks in the future.
Use a VPN to Install Country-Restricted Apps
You can use a VPN to fool Google into thinking your device is in another country. This may only work on devices without cellular connectivity, such as tablets, as Google may use the cellular network your device is on as its location.
Using a VPN doesn’t require root access. We have previously shown you how to connect to VPNs on Android. If you need a free US or UK-based VPN, try installing the TunnelBear app. TunnelBear only gives you a certain amount of free data per month, but it should be more than enough to install a few apps.
Restart your Android device, connect to a VPN located in the appropriate country, and then open the Google Play app. Your device should hopefully now appear to be located in another country, allowing you to download apps available in the VPN’s country.
You will need to use something like Tunlr or a VPN app to access country-restricted media services after installing media apps. However, some apps – such as online-banking apps – will work normally in other countries after they’re installed.
Use MarketEnabler to Install Country-Restricted Apps
If you have smartphone with cellular connectivity, Google will use your carrier’s information to determine its country. If you have root access, you can install the MarketEnabler app. This app allows you to spoof other carrier identifiers, making your device appear to be on a carrier in another country. For example, if you select [us] T-Mobile, your phone will appear to be on T-Mobile in the USA.
With either the VPN or MarketEnabler trick, you may need to clear the Google Play Store app’s data to make it detect your device’s new country. To do so, open the Settings screen, tap Apps, swipe over to the All list, scroll down to the Google Play Store app, and tap it. Tap Force stop, Clear data, and then Clear cache.
Re-open Google Play and it should hopefully find your new location.
Install the App’s APK File
If an app is marked as incompatible because you’re in the wrong country, you may be able to locate the app’s .APK file and sideload it onto your device.
Note that downloading and installing random APKs from the web is a security risk, just as downloading random EXE files from unofficial sources is a security risk on Windows. You shouldn’t download APKs from untrusted sources. However, some apps are offered in APK form officially.
You can also have people you know in another country extract the APK file from their device and send it to you. (AirDroid has an easy-to-use extract APK feature.)
Upgrade Your Android Operating System
If you want an app that requires a newer version of Android, you’ll need to update your device to the latest version of Android to get it. Most Android devices aren’t receiving updates, but you can look at installing community-created ROMs like CyanogenMod to get a newer version of Android.
For example, if you have an phone that’s still running Android 2.3, Gingerbread, and you want to install the Chrome browser (only available for Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, and newer versions of Android), you may find a community-developed ROM like CyanogenMod that can update your device to a newer version of Android, allowing you to install and use the app.
Image Credit: Johan Larsson on Flickr
Do you know any other tricks for installing incompatible apps? The VPN and MarketEnabler methods for accessing country-restricted apps didn’t appear to work for us anymore, but did they work for you? If not, did you find a better method? Leave a comment and share what you’ve discovered!
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 02/24/13