May 17, 2012

What is sideloading on a smartphone, and is it a bad thing?

I see the term sideloading used pretty often in articles about smartphones, but they don't seem to explain what it is. I understand that it is a way of installing apps, but it seems to often be used in a negative context. Does sideloading require the phone to be rooted?

Here's a guide on how to sideload apps on your Android phone:

How to side-load apps on your Android device

"One of the nicest things about the Android platform is freedom. Android lets you use your device the way that you want, compared to alternate platforms like iOS. Instead of a strictly controlled App Market that requires you to load only approved applications, most Android devices allow you to “side-load” an application package (called an .apk file) onto your device that was not downloaded directly from the Android Market.

There are a variety of ways outside of the market that you can get an Android .apk package, including downloading directly from the Internet (generally from a publisher/author’s web site), downloading from an alternative app marketplace, or by backing up from one Android device and restoring to another. Sometimes modders, like the people at XDA-Developers, will take an application like Google Voice that has not been officially released for tablets, modify it slightly to work, and then publish the modified .apk on their forums.

When might you decide to side-load apps? Generally speaking, there may be apps that are not available or that are available but not through the market on your particular device or wireless carrier. In other cases, you may have an Android device like the Archos or Coby Kyros MID7015 tablets that do not come with the Android Market installed. The alternate markets that are installed on these devices frequently do not have as wide of a selection of apps as the Android Market, and you may be disappointed to find many of your favorite apps missing."

It just means that you can download apps that aren't from the Android Market aka Google Play, and it does not require that you root your phone.  While Google doesn't have a perfect security record for apps through Google Play, it does screen the apps and relatively few really questionable apps get through.  Of course, sideloading can also refer to apps installed off of Amazon, which is probably just as secure (or more so) than those offered by Google Play.  


You are obviously taking a big chance if you install an app off of Joe Schmo's website that you just stumbled upon, but I don't know of too many people that would take such an obvious risk.  It isn't all bad though, if you are active in the development community and are familiar with other developers, it allows you to beta test.  Actually, you would have to sideload you own apps if you code your own.  

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