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A guide to using APK files on iOS devices

Apple’s App Store offers nearly 2 million apps, being the primary source for apps for iPhone users. However, you may encounter the need to install APK files if the IPA version is unavailable. Unfortunately, this is not that straightforward because Apple has a closed ecosystem with stringent security checks in place that do not permit the direct download of any app that is not present in the App Store. There are workarounds to this problem.

Before delving into them, let’s first try to understand what APK files are.

What are APK files?

APK stands for ‘Android Application Package‘ or ‘Android Package Kit‘. It is the file format used by Android to distribute and install apps. APK files contain all the necessary components of an Android app, including the app’s code, resources, manifest file, and certificates. When you download an app from the Google Play store, the APK file is installed and then managed by the platform automatically.

Why can’t I install APK files directly on my iPhone?

Android and iOS are two major mobile operating systems. APK files are technically meant for mobile devices using Andriod. In contrast, iOS devices like iPhones or iPads have a separate file format called IPA (iOS App Store Package). Android apps are written in Java or Kotlin, whereas iOS apps are built using Swift or Objective-C. Running apps on different mobile OSs is only possible with proper conversion and emulation.

iOS is known for its security, stability, and reliability, which comes from its closed ecosystem that does not permit its users to install apps from external sources, which is not the case with Android. Apple also follows a stringent review policy for all its App Store apps to ensure that only the best of the best are available to their users. Due to these reasons, APK files are not compatible with iOS.

How to use APK files on iOS devices?

The fundamental nature of iOS is that it does not allow running APK files directly. However, we can utilize some workarounds to try and use APK files on iOS devices.

Look for the IPA alternative in the App Store

If you haven’t already tried this, before you roll up your sleeves and start digging, simply search for the iOS version of the APK app you wish to use. Developers tend to create separate Android and iOS versions of an app due to the known incompatibility between the two mobile OSs. If you still don’t find the iOS version of the app in the App Store, then you will need to look at the other workarounds.

Using third-party app installers

Don’t fret if the App Store does not have what you are looking for. You can sideload your iOS device. Sideloading is installing and running apps on an iOS device from sources other than the official Apple App Store. These apps are typically distributed via other means, such as through a developer’s website or a third-party app distribution platform like TutuApp, Cydia Impactor, and AltStore. The app installer that you choose might either require you to connect your device to a computer or be directly installed on your iOS device. The general approach to working with third-party app installers is mentioned below.

  • Go to the official website of the app installer.
  • Install this installer app first on your device or computer, depending on how it is meant to support. For example, TutuApp can be installed on your device directly and launched. In the case of Cydia Impactor, you need to connect your iOS device to the computer.
  • Launch the installer app. If your device is connected to the computer, paste the IPA file once the installer app is launched. Alternatively, if the installer app is already on your iOS device, browse and download the IPA file app you are looking for.
  • If you are connected through your computer, you must provide your Apple credentials to sign into your Apple account to begin installation onto your iOS device. You might need to update settings to trust the developer certificate of the installed app otherwise.

Note: Though these app installers offer the flexibility to install all kinds of apps, there is always a certain level of security concern involved since Apple does not vet them.

Jailbreaking your device

Jailbreaking is a process that allows users to remove software restrictions imposed by Apple, enabling greater customization and the installation of third-party apps. However, jailbreaking can void your device’s warranty and may introduce security risks. This approach is best left for advanced users and is not recommended, especially if security and stability were your reason to opt for iOS.

If you still wish to jailbreak your iOS device, you can take the following approach.

  • Look for a reputable jailbreak tool compatible with your device and OS version.
  • Take a data backup and deactivate your device’s ‘Find My Phone’, Touch ID, or Face ID locks.
  • Now connect your device to your computer and run the jailbreak tool by following the on-screen instructions.
  • Wait for the tool to do its job, which might involve multiple restarts of your device.
  • Once the operation is successful, use a third-party app installer to download the app you wish to use.

Using emulators and mirroring apps

Another alternative here is to use Android emulators like iAndroid or iNDS on your iOS devices, but that, too, requires sideloading and can be quite effort-intensive as, in most cases, they will require jailbreaking. Alternatively, you can use a screen mirroring app like ‘ApowerMirror’ to mirror your Android screen, though it may not be that convenient and practical.

Conclusion

Android and iOS are two mutually exclusive mobile OSs, and hence, their apps cannot be run interchangeably. However, there are specific workarounds, with the majority banking on finding the IPA version of the APK file through third-party apps such as emulators, screen mirroring apps, and app installers. Another option in the toolkit is to jailbreak your iOS device, but it is not advisable and should be considered an approach only by advanced users.

If you want to start automation testing on iOS and Android, you can try testRigor. It is a generative AI-powered test automation tool that lets your team quickly write tests in plain English. Using testRigor, everyone can contribute to testing activities regardless of their technical skills. testRigor turns manual testers into automation experts in no time!

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