Microsoft Starts To Make Running Android Apps On Windows 11 A Reality

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One of the few really interesting announcements surrounding the roll-out of Windows 11 was the news that the latest version of Redmond's PC OS would also support apps from the dominant mobile platform, Android. That hype quickly died down as Microsoft admitted that such support wouldn't be available from day one. Some folks suggested it might never come at all.

Well, surprise surprise—if you're on the Insider or Beta update track for Windows 11, you can now start downloading and installing Android apps on your Windows device. There's a whole pile of catches, though.

First of all, when you think of "download and install Android apps," you probably think of the Google Play Store. However, that's not what you're getting on Windows. Instead, Android apps are coming to Windows through the Windows Store as part of a partnership with the Amazon app store. That means your selection of apps depends on what's available on Amazon's store, not the dominant Android store, although Microsoft has already confirmed that you'll be able to sideload your own APKs, too.

For now, your selection of apps is actually even more limited than that. The current Insider and Beta access to Android apps is limited to a curated selection of fifty apps. Apps available today consist primarily of mobile games, kids' content, and Amazon's Kindle and Comics apps.

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Android, Win32, PWA, and WSL apps running side-by-side on Windows 11. Source: Microsoft

Android app support is built upon the "Windows Subsystem for Android," which is very similar to the Windows Subsystem for Linux. In essence, the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) runs in a Hyper-V virtual machine and maps the appropriate runtime and APIs to their Windows equivalents. This support extends not only to Windows 11 on Intel and AMD PCs, but also ARM devices running Qualcomm SoCs; indeed, the majority of Android apps are targeted for machines running Arm CPUs.

That won't prevent x86-64 systems from running those apps, though. Microsoft says it is working with Intel to co-develop that company's "Intel Bridge Technology"—a "runtime post-compiler" that will allow apps aimed at other architectures to run smoothly on x86-64 machines. Notably, Microsoft's announcement (unlike Intel's) specifically notes that AMD machines will be supported as well; certainly that's reassuring for the growing numbers of gamers on Ryzen systems.

Microsoft's blog post provides absolutely no timeline for this feature to hit Windows 11 users at large. The software and cloud services giant does say that it is working with fellow megacorp Amazon and "popular app developers" to release new apps for the Windows Insider Program "in the coming months." That may imply that Android apps in general aren't coming to mainline Windows builds anytime soon, so don't hold your breath but we'll have to see how this situation unfolds.