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Why using Android apps in Windows 11 is still a pipe dream

About a week ago Microsoft launched one of the most hotly-anticipated Windows 11 features to Windows Insider beta testers. After Windows 11 launched without it, it finally became possible to run Android apps in Windows natively, thanks to the Amazon App Store and the Windows Subsystem for Android (WSA).

I was quick to try it out and get it running on my Surface Pro 8, and I truly thought it was a game-changing experience. After a few days of playing with Android apps in Windows 11, though, there’s a need to step back and look at the bigger picture.

It is true that this entire experience is still in beta, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. When compared to what Google has accomplished with Android apps in Chromebooks, Windows 11 still have a long way to go.

Missing apps

Amazon App Store in Windows 11.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

If you enroll your PC in the Windows Insider Beta channel and try out Android apps in Windows 11, you’ll likely end up being disappointed.  Right now, there’s only a collection of 50 or so apps that you can try out on Windows 11. And, these are not big-name apps, either. It is true that you can find apps like Kindle, Yahoo Mail, Comixology, but a lot of the core apps people care about are missing.

Instead, the store is populated with random kids games like Peppa Pig or Subway Surfers. Maybe Microsoft partnered with select developers (and could just be limiting the experience) to ensure that the apps that are available won’t crash. However, we don’t have an official answer as to why some apps were included and others were not. There hasn’t been an indication if this will change at launch, either.

Take some of the apps I enjoy on my Google Pixel 4XL as an example. I depend on these Android apps each day on my phone, and it would be a great productivity booster to have these same Android on my PC, natively just as I know it on my phone (and not through Microsoft’s Your Phone app). There’s no TikTok, no Snapchat, or Instagram Android apps on Windows 11. Right now, even Microsoft’s own Android apps are missing in Windows 11 such as Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Planner, or Microsoft News. And that’s not to forget Google’s own core apps like Chrome, or Google Photos. These apps are not there, either.

Missing Apps in the Amazon App Store on Windows 11.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Again, Microsoft did promise that more apps will be added in the coming months, but it didn’t say which ones. The Android apps that are currently officially available via the Amazon App Store aren’t exactly solid. It’s very reminiscent of the early days of the Windows Store on Windows 8. It launched with very little fanfare and love from developers.

Simply put, many of the Android apps people care about the most are not yet on Windows 11. When solid Progressive Web Apps or Windows apps are already available for many of these services, it’s hard to take the Android Apps on Windows 11 feature seriously unless you’re a Windows fan or someone who likes to tweak things.

No Google Play services

Google Play Store presentation.
Google

Part of the reason that there aren’t many solid Android apps in Windows 11 right now has to do with what’s under the hood. Officially, the Windows Subsystem for Android does not support Google Play Services. If you’re not familiar, that’s the core underlying layer Google requires in many apps so they can communicate with Google’s Store and other core aspects of Android.

Without Google Play Services, popular apps like Snapchat, or Chrome won’t run on Windows 11. Yet, this is also about the money, too. The Android version on which WSA is based is known as Android Open Source. But, that’s not the Android that consumers (and many app developers) know.

Android Open Source does not include Google Play Services. And, the only way a device can run Google Play Services is if the device maker pays the licensing fees to get it fully certified by Google.

Basically, an Android device maker can not pick and choose things to exclude as part of that certification, and it’s how Google makes money off of Android with its own apps. This is why the WSA avoids the Google licensing and is based on open-source (free) Android, with Amazon’s Android App Store as the storefront. Microsoft likely doesn’t want to pay Google.

So, if Microsoft were to want Google Play Services, it’d have to pay the full Android licensing fee and include all of Google’s own Android apps in Windows 11, too. That’s just like what Google has done on its own Chrome OS operating system for Chromebooks. That sounds like a bit of a stretch for Microsoft and seems very unlikely that Google Play Services will come to Windows 11.

Mainly for developers and the community

The Aurora app store on Windows 11.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

In its current state, Android apps on Windows 11 are mainly for people who love to tinker with Windows. Since Android is open-source, and anyone has access to the code, there’s a way to get Google Play Services running, but it’s not exactly legal. It’s also possible to sideload popular apps in Windows 11 using Google’s own developer tools, but the process is very cumbersome and we can’t recommend it.

Those things are for technical folk, but beyond developers and the Windows enthusiast community, Android apps on Windows 11 don’t make much sense in their current form. Especially when you can find decent web versions of Android apps, like Instagram, or even TikTok and Reddit.

That’s a disappointment considering how big Microsoft made the initial announcement seem. Android apps on Windows? It seemed impossible. But as it stands today, it’s not something most people will get much use out of. It’s certainly not a reason to upgrade to Windows 11 all on its own.

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Arif Bacchus
Arif Bacchus is a native New Yorker and a fan of all things technology. Arif works as a freelance writer at Digital Trends…
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