Run Android apps on your Windows PC or Mac

Software company BlueStacks, which produces the BlueStacks App Player (above), has signed deals with PC vendors, such as Asus, which makes the Transformer AiO desktop PC (below), to preload the app on Windows 8 computers.

Running Android apps on a computer can be as simple as downloading and installing a programme called BlueStacks App Player. This beta software is able to run Android apps on your computer and is available for Windows (XP and above) and Mac OS X.

It used to be that only developers would be interested in running Android apps on their computers and mainly for the purpose of ensuring that their mobile apps worked properly on the operating system.

Otherwise, there were few reasons to run Android apps on a computer, which did not have a touchscreen or a display that was optimised for a mobile app. They would look blurry and pixellated on the larger computer screen.

The introduction of Microsoft's touch-enabled Windows 8 operating system last year changed this. Windows 8 PCs are more likely to have touchscreens. Some of them are also designed to be used as tablets.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to run Android apps is that the fledgling app store for Windows 8 does not have as many apps as the established Google Play store for Android. Microsoft revealed in July that the number of apps in the Windows Store had passed the 100,000 mark. In comparison, there are more than 800,000 Android apps.

Besides Google Play store having more apps, the Windows Store also lacks some popular apps, especially in the games category. There are also apps that are free on Android, but available only as paid versions on Windows 8.

Hence, running Android apps on a Windows PC is not the far-fetched idea it once was. And this is reflected in the growth of BlueStacks, which now claims more than 10 million downloads on its website. The software company, which released the Windows beta version only last year, has also inked partnerships to preload BlueStacks on Windows 8 computers from PC vendors Asus and Lenovo.

BlueStacks programme still rough

The BlueStacks programme runs in either window mode or full-screen mode. It has a basic but functional interface that looks slightly rough around the edges. However, it should be familiar to Android users with its Back and Share buttons.

The BlueStacks icon in the middle is analogous to the Home button in Android and takes you to the main screen. This is divided into three main sections - My Apps, Top Charts and the app currently featured by BlueStacks.

You can change the language, manage downloaded applications, add Google accounts and change the app size (choose between default and tablet) in the Settings menu. BlueStacks is also able to sync data between the computer and your mobile device.

Click on the search icon to find the app you want and BlueStacks will initiate the search in multiple app stores - 1Mobile Market, Amazon Appstore and the official Google Play store. Select the app store and you will be redirected to download it to the BlueStacks programme. I would recommend getting your apps from Google Play.[[{"fid":"46229","view_mode":"default","type":"media","link_text":null,"attributes":{"height":267,"width":410,"border":"0","style":"display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;","class":"media-element file-default"}}]]

On an Haswell-based ultrabook, most of the Android apps I tried - Candy Crush Saga, Angry Birds and Temple Run 2 - ran smoothly enough in the BlueStacks App Player.

However, Kingsoft Office would often register an error and close the document I was working on.

Even when running in full-screen mode, the BlueStacks App player behaves like any Windows-based programme - you can still execute Windows 8 swipe gestures, such as swiping in from the right edge of the screen to bring up the Charms bar, or the closest thing to a Start menu on Windows 8.

As Android apps are intended for mobile devices, some of them will not work properly on a laptop as it lacks certain hardware features, such as an accelerometer. For instance, tilting the laptop in Temple Run 2 does not do anything, unlike on a tablet or smartphone. But the game would probably be playable on a Windows hybrid or tablet.

The Flipboard news reader app ran well on the laptop, but images were slightly blurry as it is not optimised for the laptop's 13.3-inch screen. Sharing files between Android apps and Windows OS on the PC is possible, but involves downloading an Android file manager in the BlueStacks programme.

If that sounds too complicated, I recommend using cloud storage instead.

Other dual-boot devices

Both Asus and Samsung are preparing new products that offer Android and Windows on a single device. In fact, Asus has already launched an 18-inch desktop all-in-one PC - the Transformer AiO - that consists of a detachable Android 4.1 tablet and a docking station running Windows 8.

The Transformer AiO runs Android when used as a tablet. When you connect to its docking station, which houses an Intel Core i7 CPU, the screen switches to Windows 8. Asus also has a remote desktop feature that allows you to switch between Android and Windows 8 when using the tablet.

Basically, this remote desktop feature "phones home" to the docking station to access the Windows 8 system there.

Announced at this year's Computex, the Asus Transformer Book Trio continues this approach of having two processors in a single product.

It is a laptop with a detachable screen that becomes a tablet. The tablet half is powered by an Intel Atom processor running Android, while the keyboard dock contains an Intel Core i5/i7 processor with Windows 8.

A physical hotkey toggles between the two operating systems, although the tablet has to be attached to the keyboard dock to run Windows 8.

Samsung also revealed its dual-boot device in June, but unlike the Asus product, the Samsung Ativ Q has only one Intel Core processor.

It has a slider design reminiscent of Sony's Vaio Duo, but offers four usage modes like the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga. But most of the attention was on its high-resolution display of 3,200 by 1,800 pixels, which is the highest screen resolution available on a laptop.

The Ativ Q runs Windows 8 and Android 4.2.2, switching at the push of a button. Samsung promises that users will be able to access the Google Play store and be able to share folders and files between the two operating systems.

The price and availability of the Ativ Q have not been announced.

vinchang@sph.com.sg


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