When Microsoft announced Windows 11 last June, one of the key new features that it showed was Android app support. However, it didn’t arrive at launch, and to date, you still have to be a Windows Insider to run an Android app natively on Windows. The preview launched on October 20, 2021, three months ago today, so let’s take a look at the progress.
A brief history of Android apps on Windows
Microsoft has been trying to get this to work for * checks watch * about seven years now. At the second ever Windows 10 event in January 2015, the company announced four “bridges” to help populate the store with apps. One of them was Project Astoria, which would essentially put Android apps in what was then called the Windows Store, and they’d just run on Windows 10.
Project Astoria never shipped outside of previews for Windows phones, and the real reason isn’t really known. Some reports were that Project Astoria worked so well that Microsoft thought no one would bother to make Windows apps anymore. I had heard at one point that it wasn’t good enough, and that it wasn’t going to be. Either way, Microsoft said it was simply too confusing for developers having the option to port an Android app or to port an iOS app (Project Islandwood), so it was scrapping the former.
The year after that, Microsoft introduced the Windows Subsystem for Linux, letting users run Linux command shells on Windows. A few years after that with WSL 2.0, it actually started shipping a Linux kernel inside Windows 10. With all of that Linux work done, it started to pave the way for Android apps on Windows, once again.
As mentioned above, with the announcement of Windows 11, Microsoft introduced what was internally called Project Latte, its newest initiative for running Android apps on Windows. These apps are set to come from the Amazon Appstore, but it’s also part of a broader Microsoft Store plan to let users get apps from wherever they want. While Amazon may have an initial exclusive since it’s working with Microsoft on the platform, the Microsoft Store is open to other vendors, even Google if it should want to get on board.
How it started, and how it’s going
The initial preview arrived in the Beta channel and strangely enough, it came to the Dev channel later. Since the Dev channel usually gets new features first, I think a lot of people thought this might mean that the feature was farther along than it was. It really wasn’t though.
The truth is that in three months, not much has changed.
Getting set up
You still need to be on either the Beta or Dev channel to get the Windows Subsystem for Android, and you can enroll any time and get started. Keep in mind the differences between the two Windows Insider channels though. The Dev channel will put you in the rs_prerelease branch, so you’ll be on some future version of Windows that you can’t easily roll back from without doing a factory reset. The Beta channel will just give you cumulative updates until it’s time to start testing Windows 11 version 22H2.
Once you restart your PC to enroll in the Windows Insider Program, you should immediately be able to find the Amazon Appstore in the Microsoft Store. You can choose to install it, or if you search for anything that comes from the Amazon Appstore, that will automatically install it as well.
Once you get the process going, it’s going to start by installing the Windows Subsystem for Android, so rather than the typical one-click installation process that you usually get from an app store, you’ll have to click next a few times. Once that’s done, you’ll have to open the Amazon Appstore and sign in with your Amazon account.
Now, you can either search through the Amazon Appstore app to find new apps, or you can find them in the Microsoft Store, which will redirect you to Amazon’s storefront to install them.
To be clear, none of this process has changed. I don’t expect it to either. It’s not a particularly painful process, or at least it’s not painful in an unintentional way. Forcing people out of the Microsoft Store and into other storefronts is by design. Microsoft already does it with games, sending users to another one of its own apps to get them, the Xbox app.
When the preview launched, the Amazon Appstore offered a curated selection of 50 games and apps. This was a bit of a surprise. I think we all expected the whole Amazon Appstore to be available for Windows 11. After all, this is Amazon’s chance to expose its Android app marketplace to hundreds of millions of new users (or billions if Windows 11 ever gets there).
Microsoft promised that this was only a test run, and it was going to add more apps and games as time went on. While it didn’t explicitly say so, the implication is certainly that we’ll eventually see the entirety of the Amazon Appstore.
As of today, there are 46 apps and games available in the Amazon Appstore on Windows 11. That’s right; there are somehow fewer.
Most of the apps and games are ones that I’d never bother with, so I can’t tell you specifically which ones were removed. I do know that Subway Surfers is one of the missing ones. You’re not crazy; there has been no progress in the app selection department. It appears that we’ve moved backward.
If you go to the all apps and games screen, the first six options you’ll see are from the My Talking Tom series. For apps, you’ll find Yahoo Mail, BBC Sounds, and Amazon first-party apps like Kindle and Comixology. There are no apps for things like Prime Video and Amazon Music, since those exist on Windows already.
Side note: I’m talking specifically about apps available through the Amazon Appstore, which is the official way to get Android apps on Windows 11 right now. It’s not the only way to get apps. So if you want to get nuts, let’s get nuts.
Performance and bugs
This is one area where I feel like the Windows Subsystem for Android has really improved on Windows 11. Because frankly, it was pretty bad at launch. Here’s the deal. Every time you launched an Android app, whether it was the Amazon Appstore or an app that you got from there, you had to sit and wait for the Windows Subsystem for Android to start up.
This was actually a bug. After installing WSA, you’ll find an option in the Start Menu for Windows Subsystem for Android Settings. In there, you can choose whether you want WSA to launch as needed, or if it should run continuously. This option was always there, but it just never seemed to work. It’s a lot better now.
I always set it to continuous, even though it’s set to ‘as needed’ by default. But on continuous, opening an Android app is much like opening any other kind of app, which is really the goal. Any app on Windows should feel like any other kind. The user shouldn’t have to decide between what platform of apps to run on Windows. They should just be apps to the end user.
Performance still has some ground to cover. When using an app, you can immediately feel that it’s not as smooth as if it was running natively on an Android device.
To be clear, I’ve been testing Android apps on all kinds of hardware, with chips from Intel, AMD, and Qualcomm. If it’s got a convertible hinge and was made in the last year or two, I’ve probably at least run the Kindle app on it. Intel and AMD processors use Intel Bridge technology to emulate the apps, and they run natively on ARM. Still, the performance is not there.
That might have something to do with why Subway Surfers disappeared. With the latency, it’s just too hard to play.
Conclusion: Do we really need Android apps on Windows 11?
A fairly common sentiment around this is, “Who cares?” After all, Windows pretty much has all of the apps we want, right? If there’s no native app, there’s a web interface, and we spend most of our time on PCs in the browser anyway.
I’ve been excited about Android apps on Windows ever since the Astoria Project days, although back then, it was more about running Snapchat on a Windows phone. Now, I just want better tablet apps to make convertible PCs a reasonable value proposition. I was even more pumped to hear it was coming via a partnership with Amazon, since the Kindle was at the top of the list of apps that I want. Comixology was up there too, but Amazon recently let you read your Comixology comics in the Kindle app, so I only need the one now.
I recently wrote a review of the Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 2, and how I was sitting in an airport waiting for a flight, reading comics off of an E Ink display in the lid of a laptop by running Android apps on Windows 11. It’s cool . More importantly, it’s one less device that I have to bring with me. If I’m commuting on the train, I always have an iPad or a Kindle just for reading. With something like the Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 360, I’d just be able to fold the lid back and read on my makeshift tablet.
Others I’ve spoken to have mentioned smart home applications, something that I’m not nearly as invested in. Lots of smart home appliances have companion apps on Android, but not on Windows. If you want to turn on your lights at night when you’re not home, or adjust the thermostat, you’d have to use your phone to do it. The goal here is not to have to pull your phone out; it’s to use the device that you’re already on. Even the Lenovo Smart Wireless Earbuds that the company just sent me require a companion app to update the firmware. You can’t even do it on its own PCs.
While I think the idea has a lot of potential, it still has a long way to go before we see it in production. Like I’ve said a few times, not much has changed in the last three months of testing. We have fewer apps to choose from in the Amazon Appstore, when we’re supposed to have more. Performance, a key factor in getting this to work at all, hasn’t come very far. It’s just less buggy now.
It’s unclear when Microsoft will start supporting Android apps in production versions of Windows 11, but it might be something that ends up being a key feature in the next big update, which is slated for this fall. We’ve reached out to Microsoft for a statement about the status of the Windows Subsystem for Android, and a spokesperson said the company has nothing to share at this time.