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How to Run Android Apps on Your Desktop the Easy Way

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Ever feel like running an Android app on your Windows machine? Using BlueStacks, you can easily get apps from your Android device to your desktop or laptop without any complicated set up or fussing with the Android SDK.

Android Apps on Windows

BlueStacks is essentially a self-contained virtual machine that runs Android apps on your Windows 7 computer. While it’s still in alpha, it’s surprisingly stable, pretty novel, and constantly improving. It has very little set up and runs quite nicely smoothly, albeit with a few limitations. The biggest appeal is that you don’t have to deal with the Android SDK – or even know what that is, really – and so it’s great for beginners. You can easily install apps available from BlueStacks’s list of free apps, and if you have an Android device, you can install many apps from your device via the Cloud Connect app.

Why would anyone want to do this? Well, suppose you have an app that you really like and there’s no proper desktop equivalent. You can run it on your main computer instead of on your tiny little Android phone. Or, perhaps you’re thinking about buying a tablet, but you’re not sure what apps you’d like. You can try out many of the free apps that BlueStacks provides, or get a friend with a tablet or phone to show you the apps they use. You can play around with those apps on your desktop or laptop and see if you like them before you buy something you may or may not use. It’s pretty great for developers who want to demo their app, but for some reason don’t have access to a PC with the SDK.

You can use the standard mouse to navigate everything and it works pretty well, but if you’re lucky enough to have a touch-screen, then this works spectacularly. Some of the games may require nicer hardware (and BlueStacks is partnering with AMD for this in the future), but most apps run fine on their own. We tried this on a year-old netbook and things ran perfectly fine. There were a few hiccups here and there, but no crashes or major slowdowns.

BlueStacks Installation

Installing BlueStacks is easy. Just head over to the download page and grab the installer. Currently, BlueStacks only runs on Windows 7 (it says x86, but it worked on our 64-bit Windows 7 installation, too). They seem to be working on a version for Windows XP and Vista as well as Mac OS X, so we’ll hopefully see those in the near future.

end_of_install

After the program is installed, the installer will ask if you would like to view an introductory video. It’s very short and gives you the basics of how the program works.

BlueStacks installs a desktop gadget that acts as a launcher.

gadget

You can move this around and change the opacity like normal gadgets. To open up the launcher, just give this a left-click.

launcher

You’ll see the list of default installed apps. Click any one to launch it.

desktop

You’ll see the app come up like it would on an Android device. Just use the mouse like you would your finger, and if you happen to have a touch-screen, then you’re probably ecstatic.

As mentioned in the intro video, you can see that there are some icons on the bottom of your screen that you can tap.

vlcsnap-2011-11-15-04h41m35s216

These simulate the hardware buttons found on Android devices. There’s a few extra buttons that allow you to change the screen orientation and zoom level of the apps, as well as close the app out entirely. Actually, I found that you can drag from the top panel and the notification drawer comes down. There’s even a built-in browser for when you click on “help” links and the like.

browser

The onscreen-keyboard also pops up for text boxes. Normal PC shortcuts for copying and pasting and selecting all text do not work, however.

desktop rota keyb

Adding More Apps

more apps

From the BlueStacks Launcher, you can click the Get More Apps link, which will open a browser window pointed to the BlueStacks Channels website.

cloud connect pin

Here, you’ll see a 9-digit PIN for use with the Android Cloud Connect app. You can click on the Featured Apps link on the left to browse and subscribe to the free apps available from BlueStacks.

featured apps

Of course, the big feature here is that you can add apps from an Android device as well. To do this, install the BlueStacks Cloud Connect app from the Android Market.

snap20111115_045155

Once installed, launch the app and enter the 9-digit PIN that you found on the BlueStacks Channels website.

snap20111115_045317

Then all you have to do is select which apps you’d like to use in BlueStacks and hit the Sync button up top.

snap20111115_045404

On your computer, you’ll see a popup in your system tray when the apps have successfully installed.

subsonicbluestacks cloud connect installed

Uninstalling Apps

When you go back to the BlueStacks Channels website, you can click on the Cloud Connect link on the left to see which apps you have installed this way.

subscribing

To uninstall an app, just click the Subscribed button. After a little while, the app will be uninstalled from BlueStacks and you’ll see a blue Subscribe button, in case you want to reinstall it.

Limitations

As we mentioned before, BlueStacks is currently in the alpha stage of development. While it is surprisingly stable, there are some issues. For example, not all apps were able to have their orientations switched from landscape back to portrait, though we didn’t find it to be a particular disadvantage for when it happened. There are also some limitations present in the software.

You can’t browse the Android file system from Windows. This was particularly disheartening since I love Moon+ Reader for ebooks, and to get them on the device I had to use DropBox and download them manually. Once I got them on there, I could navigate to where they would be in the Android system folders like normal and things worked fine.

Dropbox notification drawer

Some apps don’t work because of this, however. I installed the SubSonic client without issues and had it connect to our server, but songs wouldn’t play even after being successfully downloaded. This could also be due to the way that the app played back media, and since Talking Tom 2 worked fine and even handled microphone input properly, it may be a problem with SubSonic itself.

Perhaps the biggest limitation is one placed on purpose: games. Not all games will play via the app. This seems to be because of an upcoming Pro version which allows unlimited use of “premium” apps.

Pro coming soon

On the website, this mentions popular games like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja, and a few other media apps that I tried to sync with BlueStacks didn’t work, either. They seemed to upload without problems, but on the Cloud Connect website, I got an “Unavailable” status for the app.

subscribing

Depending on how well these games and media apps run, it may be worthwhile to pay for the Pro version of BlueStacks. Unfortunately, there’s no word on pricing or availability right now, and it’s a bummer that they didn’t include this function for free in the meanwhile.

One final drawback is that BackStacks seems to be using Android 2.2 FroYo as a basis for running these apps. While this doesn’t pose a big problem yet – most apps aren’t reliant on 2.3/Gingerbread yet – we hope to see this change, especially since Android 4.0/Ice Cream Sandwich is right around the corner.

Conclusions

On the whole, the apps that did work by and large worked very well. Aside from a few hang-ups, BlueStacks seems like a very easy way to get Android apps working on your desktop, laptop, or even Windows tablet. Performance was smooth on our year-old netbook, a fact that was pleasantly surprising, and we can see how great this would be with a touch-screen. It’s not perfect, but it’s incredibly easy and very stable.

Yatri Trivedi is a monk-like geek. When he's not overdosing on meditation and geek news of all kinds, he's hacking and tweaking something, often while mumbling in 4 or 5 other languages.

  • Published 11/15/11

Comments (23)

  1. শাওন

    ধন্যবাদ :)

  2. akram

    very nice thanks , i wish iphone like that ^^

  3. YatriTrivedi

    @শাওন: কিচ্ছু মনে করবেন না. আমার বাংলা খুব ভালো নয় … It’s been a very long time since I’ve studied it. ^_^

    @akram: thank you!

  4. fourtyseven

    I’m interested in developping apps for mobile phones, games etc. I know that VB 2010 has the ability to create these apps but they don’t have any good videos showing how the apps are developped in the first place also their vids that are there show bits of code etc. Now for a beginner it is useful to beable to see the finished syntax codes of the program so that it can be related to other bits that have an explanation, but unfortunately they only show parts and leave you wondering where you went wrong when you try it yourself. Also when you down load the VB2010 program there is a lot more to be installed, but they never give you a complete list you have to find out by using it to know that somethingg is missing. So if anyone knows how to overcome these hitches I would be eternally reatful for the info.
    Rgeards.

  5. Kirk

    I was wondering whether BlueStacks has an installer for Windows XP? Yes I know it’s old. Is this reverse compatible because I noticed from the reading that BluStac is for use with Windows 7?

    Thanks

  6. Robert

    In the body of your article you note that a version for XP is in the works. When that is released, will you be making a note on your newsletter? Thanks.

  7. Jorge

    I tried but it didn’t even install, I got the msg: It work only with Windows 7 or higher…

  8. e1sunz

    “ধন্যবাদ :) ”

    none of that please we want to know what your saying thank you.

  9. J Glenn

    The only catch is that you must have a Facebook account and log on with your account. I will never have a Facebook account. So this software is useless to me. It was a good idea though.

  10. M0nk

    @e1sunz

    I encourage diversity.

    Google has a great tool, feel free to use it.
    http://translate.google.com/#auto|en|%E0%A6%A7%E0%A6%A8%E0%A7%8D%E0%A6%AF%E0%A6%AC%E0%A6%BE%E0%A6%A6

    বাক্সের বাইরে চিন্তা

  11. YatriTrivedi

    @Kirk: Unfortunately BlueStacks does not have an XP-compatibly version yet, although the website imply that they’re working on it.

    @J Glenn: Actually, you can create an account with BlueStacks instead of using a Facebook Account. I’ll try to update the post when I get a chance to reflect this!

    @M0nk: Ha, clever! “Think outside the box,” yeah? But I think instead of চিন্তা it should be চিন্তা করুন. I could be wrong; as I said, it’s been a long time. ^_^

  12. J Maharjan

    I installed bluestacks but when i clicked on the gadget, it doesn’t show any apps. I have win 7.

  13. john klein

    Loaded on my laptop. Install totally froze system. Had to power down hard. Reboot had it on desktop and did not work. Also blew out my startup applications, Had to reset them to start automatically. HP Laptop – Windows 7. I’ll wait for production version, maybe.

  14. Anon

    Is there a way to run an app without it being full screen?

  15. gaurav

    Bluestacks is running the Gingerbread (2.3.4) distribution and not the Froyo as mentioned by you in the article :)

  16. Postman8

    their cloud connect isnt available from the market

    tried the browser and it wont let me use the email login..

    needs a fix..and quick..

  17. shashank chauhan

    excellent i m done thanx a lot and i m too a big fan of ur site

  18. nateg

    True, angry birds does not work on BlueStacks and that was the only game I wanted from my Optimus U to my laptop! Maybe in the future though! Huge (Fan) of this site !!!!!!!!!

  19. FormalGiant

    Look that pig has wheels; Oh no no

  20. Cash For Laptops

    This really helps people who are not sure if they want to buy the apps or not. Specifically so that users will not end up buying an app that they don”t like

  21. Stykz club

    Cool keep up with the good work

  22. grit

    you guys rock!

  23. Dabheid

    At the beginning of this article i was all “Awesome I’mma download Bluestacks n check it out…by the end of the article I’d decided to just wait til I get my new phone to try out the apps.

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