Sideloading apps enables you to install apps that are either not available in Google Play or not listed as compatible for your device. This is rarely a problem with Android phones, but with Android watches it’s a common occurrence. What if you could change that, and install any app you like?
There are some potential drawbacks: the app might not work as intended because it hasn’t been optimised for the device, which might mean it’s buggy, crashes upon opening or drains resources and battery life. If you’re not entirely sure what you’re downloading there’s also a risk of installing malware.
But if you’re comfortable that the app is legit, and you’re willing to give it a try, sideloading apps to Android Wear is much easier than you probably think.
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How to get any app on Android Wear
Enable Developer Options
On your Android Wear watch you’ll need to go into Settings, System, About, find the Build Number and tap this seven times. You’ll now see a new option in the Settings menu called Developer Options.
Turn on ADB debugging over Wi-Fi
In the Developer Options menu look for and enable an option called ADB debugging, and confirm that you wish to do so when asked. Below this you should also see Debug over Wi-Fi. Enable this, give it a moment to connect, then jot down the IP address that appears below. It will look something like 192.168.0.27:5555.
Install Minimal ADB and Fastboot
On a Windows PC, laptop or Mac download the free Minimal ADB and Fastboot tool from here. Install the software.
Find the APK file
In order to sideload an app you need to have the software to hand. You can search various APK databases online for the Android app file, or if it’s listed on Google Play but not available for your device you can simply enter the URL of the page on the Play Store here and click ‘Generate Download Link’.
Prepare the APK file
Rename the APK file to something memorable – in the screenshot at the top of the page you’ll see we’ve called it ‘tinycam.apk’. You can do this by right-clicking the file and selecting Rename.
Now open an Explorer window and browse to C:Program Files (x86)Minimal ADB and Fastboot. Create a new folder (right-click and choose New folder) and call it apps. Move the APK file into this folder (you can drag and drop from your Downloads folder, or right-click and choose Cut, then right-click again and choose Paste in the new apps folder).
Connect Minimal ADB and Fastboot to Android Wear
Launch ADB on your computer and type adb connect, followed by your watch’s IP address.
It will look something like this: adb connect 192.168.0.27:5555
Press Enter, then allow the connection on the watch when prompted. A message will pop up to confirm the connection is successful.
Transfer the APK to the watch
You’ll need to move the APK file on to the watch before you can install it, so type adb push apps/[APK file name] /sdcard/.
It will look something like this: adb push apps/tinycam.apk /sdcard/
Press Enter. This may take a minute or two, then you’ll see a message confirming the file has been pushed to the watch.
Install the app on your watch
The final step is to install the APK file that is now residing on your watch. Type adb -e install apps/[APK file name].
It will look something like this: adb -e install apps/tinycam.apk
Press Enter, then wait for the Success message to confirm the app has been installed. You should now be able to locate it among your other watch apps, and – hopefully – launch and use the app as you would on your phone.
We say hopefully, because there’s no guarantee that the app will work satisfactorily, especially on the smaller screen of your watch. And, in fact, the first app we sideloaded – Tinycam – crashed when we tried to open it.
However, we then installed the Foscam app and, following some login issues given the small screen and lack of an underscore option (we had to resort to installing a different keyboard), were able to monitor our home security cameras directly from the watch.
Close the connection
Remember to close the ADB connection when you’ve finished. Type adb disconnect in Minimal ADB and Fastboot, then press Enter. You should also enter Developer Options in the watch’s Settings menu and turn off ADB debugging.
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