The functionality of mobile devices running the Android operating system, the most used mobile operating system globally, can be extended using 'apps' – specialized software designed to offer users the means to use their devices for certain additional purposes. Such apps are compiled in the Android-native APK file format which allows easy redistribution of apps to end-users.
Most apps are distributed through Google's Play Store but many alternative software repositories, or app stores, exist. Alternative app stores use the 'Unknown Sources' option of Android devices to install APK files directly via the Android Package Manager.
Google Play Store
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The Google Play Store (originally the Android Market), operated and developed by Google, serves as the official app store for the Android, allowing users to download apps developed with the Android software development kit (SDK) and published through Google. The store offers both free and paid apps. Apps exploiting hardware capabilities of a device can be targeted to users of devices with specific hardware components, such as a motion sensor (for motion-dependent games) or a front-facing camera (for online video calling). The Google Play store had over 50 billion app downloads in 2013 and has reached over 2.96 million apps published in 2020.
Although bundled with most Android devices, the Play Store is only available on devices that are certified within the 'Android Compatibility Program'. As a result, manufacturers of so-called 'custom ROMs', i .e. modified versions of Android, are not allowed to bundle Google apps, including the Play Store, with their software. Compatibility can be restored by installing the Google apps from another source, such as OpenGApps, or using alternative app stores.
Google Play Store is Google's official source for Android apps and downloads. In addition to housing over one million apps and games in its digital library, the Google Play Store also provides a multitude of music files and videos. Users can search for specific applications by keyword or browse apps in the Google Play library via category.
Manufacturer app stores
In addition to some manufacturers not creating certified compatible versions of Android, some manufacturers have decided to bundle their own app stores, either in addition to the Play Store or as a replacement.
Such app stores include:
- Samsung Galaxy Store, which is installed on Samsung mobile devices alongside the Play Store. In India, the Samsung Galaxy store is being powered by Indus App Bazaar and is offering a localized experience in 12 Indian languages to all its users.
- Amazon Appstore, which is installed instead of the Play Store on Amazon'sFire Phone and Kindle Fire. The Amazon Appstore can also be installed on other Android devices by downloading it from the Amazon website.
- Xiaomi Mi GetApps
- OPPO App Market
- VIVO App Store
Third-party app stores
App stores that do not rely on pre-installation by the manufacturer are an alternate option for finding Android applications. Apps offered through third-party app stores or websites, created by parties not affiliated with the device or operating system (OS), are also third-party apps.
Google Play Keyword Tool
Such stores include:
This form of app store is often used by web developers to distribute apps that are not allowed in the Google Play Store; this may be due to an app allowing users wider access to the app-system, or offering apps for 'niche users' who choose to use only free and open-source software (F-Droid) or prefer to play indie games (Itch.io). Moreover, there are alternative stores that serve to distribute 'hacked' versions of paid apps, for no cost.
Reasons to use alternative app stores
Some users prefer using alternative app stores to avoid using Google services as part of their philosophy. Alternative app stores may also be easier to navigate for users, allowing them to find specific apps quicker, due to different search algorithms or the user interface design implemented for displaying available apps. However, users preferring to utilize either, third-party app stores or the Google Play store, cannot be certain that the apps they are installing have been checked for malware or computer viruses.
In addition, alternative app stores may be used for downloading android applications due to limited availability of full–Google Play functionality. For example, users in China are not able to purchase apps from the Google Play Store, in turn, limiting their options for app purchasing to alternative app stores, such as, AppChina and Wandoujia.
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