With Google’s ambitious plan to move away from APKs to Android App Bundles (AAB) as the new standard for apps uploaded to the Play Store, you might be wondering how to sideload AAB files on your Android device. Is the process of sideloading AAB files as easy as installing an APK? That’s exactly what we will discuss in this article and explain how to install App Bundles on an Android device.

Installing Android App Bundles: A Step-by-Step Guide (2021)

We have added methods to download app bundles and install them in this article, along with a brief explainer on what are Android app bundles. Make sure you read on till the end to know everything about installing Android app bundles on your device.

What are Android App Bundles and How they Compare to APKs?

Google first announced Android App Bundles at Google I/O 2018 as part of its efforts to reduce the size of Android apps. With App Bundles, Google Play generates APK files based on different device configurations like CPU architecture, DPI, and languages. These individual APK files serve a specific purpose are called split APKs. And Google Play then delivers the appropriate configuration of the app (one that works best for your device) through a process called Dynamic Delivery.

base apk and split apk android app bundle
Image Courtesy: Google

What makes App Bundles important now is that Google recently announced its plans to start requiring new apps to be published as Android App Bundles (AAB) starting August 2021. Going forward, new apps on Google Play will use the Android App Bundle (AAB) format instead of APK. Similarly, all apps will utilize Play Asset Delivery or Play Feature Delivery instead of OBB for expansion files, typically used in games. For more information, check out this detailed explainer about APK vs AAB.

It doesn’t take a genius to guess that Google will eventually impose this requirement on existing apps. In fact, popular app makers such as Adobe, LinkedIn, Netflix, and Twitter have embraced the format already. And with Google’s latest announcement, developers that didn’t show interest in app bundles so far are likely to jump ship to streamline the app delivery process.

So, how does the move to AAB affect app sideloading on Android devices? Well, with the rise of app bundles, the process of sideloading apps has become complicated. Instead of a single APK install file, we now have different formats such as .apks (a combination of .apk file and all split apk files), .xapk (APK file + OBB data file), and .apkm (App bundle from APKMirror website).

Since .aab files are directly uploaded to Google Play, and you can’t directly install it using the native package installer, you won’t easily find .aab files of your favorite apps on the internet. If you are a developer, you can use Google’s bundletool for generating APKs from an Android App Bundle. However, we have also added a free app capable of installing .aab files at the end of the article if you would like to test a .aab file.

How to Download Android App Bundles

As there is no official centralized repository to download AAB files on Android phones, we will have to rely on third-party app hosting sites like APKMirror for sideloading app bundles. However, there’s a catch when you use APKMirror for app bundles. The APKMirror website uses its own format for app bundles called .apkm. As a result, you will have to use the APKMirror Installer companion app to install .apkm files.

download apkm from apkmirror - Install Android App Bundle AAB files

To download a .apkm file, visit APKMirror (website link), search for and open the listing of the app you want to download, and click on “Download APK Bundle”. The website will now download a .apkm file you can install using the APKMirror Installer app.

Install Android App Bundles on Your Device

Once you have downloaded an Android App Bundle, you can install it using a dedicated app bundle installer app. Now, if you would like to install a .apkm file, you should use APKMirror Installer. However, if you have the base APK and specific split APKs, you can use the open-source app Split APKs Installer (SAI) to install an Android App Bundle.

Although APKMirror Installer is capable of installing .apks files, you will have to watch ads to install the app (you can get a subscription to remove ads). In a nutshell, if you are installing .apkm files, use APKMirror Installer and use SAI in other cases. That said, it’s worth mentioning that SAI gained .apkm support for unencrypted .apkm files in a recent update.

Method 1: Install .apkm Files Using APKMirror

1. After downloading the .apkm file from APKMirror, open the APKMirror Installer app (Free, with in-app purchases). Then, select the .apkm file from the “Browse files” option. Tap on the .apkm file name, followed by a tap on “Install package” from the pop-up menu.

install package apkmirror

2. APKMirror Installer will then show the details of the app. Next, tap on “Install app” at the bottom, followed by a tap on “Install” in the pop-up window again to complete the process. If you are using the APKMirror Installer for the first time, Android will request app install permissions. It will redirect you to the Settings app and you can enable that toggle.

install apkm - Install Android App Bundle AAB files

3. Once the installation is complete, you can tap on “Open app” to start using the app. That’s it. You have successfully installed an Android App Bundle on your device.

apkm install success

Method 2: Install .apks and Split apk Files Using SAI

You can install .apks, .xapk, split apk files, and unencrypted .apkm files using the Split APKs Installer (SAI). SAI is considered the gold standard for installing app bundles in the Android community. Here’s how to use the SAI app to install split apks:

1. Install SAI from Play Store (Free, with in-app purchases) and tap on “Install APKs” at the bottom of the home page. You can now use the internal file picker or system file picker to select the Android App Bundle you want to install. I recommend using the System file picker.

pick file sai - Install Android App Bundle AAB files

2. Pick the Android App Bundle from the file picker, and SAI will automatically pick the split apks that match your device. You can also choose specific split APKs, say if you need an additional language. Once that’s done, tap on “Install”.

install split apk - Install Android App Bundle AAB files

3. Press “Install” in the app installation prompt, and you will get a pop-up message as soon as the installation is complete.

install success sai

Method 3: Install .aab Files on Your Device Using App Bundle Installer

Because of the nature of .aab files, a general user is unlikely to come across apps with the .aab filetype. However, if you manage to get your hands on a .aab file, you can use an app called App Bundle Installer to install it. In this demonstration, I will be using the .aab file of Power Menu Controls, a powerful app to customize the Android 11 power menu. Here’s how to install .aab files on your Android phone:

1. Install App Bundle Installer (Free, contains ads), and tap on “Select AAB” from the home screen. When the next page appears, tap on the “Select AAB File” button to pick your .aab file.

select aab file

2. Choose the .aab file from the Android file manager of your choice, and then tap the “Install File” button in the app to start the installation process.

install aab

3. The app will now show you a prompt to tell you how it works. It uploads the .aab file, converts .aab to .apk, signs the .apk file, and downloads it to your device. Since it is a third-party implementation, proceed at your own risk.

confirm and upload aab

4. Once the .apk file is ready, you will see the app installation prompt. Tap on “Install” to install the app and press “Open” to launch the app after the process is complete.

install aab complete - Install Android App Bundle

Install AAB Files on Android Phones with Ease!

So, that brings us to the end of our guide on how to install Android App Bundles (AAB) on your device. As you can clearly see, sideloading apps as Android App Bundles is not as simple as installing an apk file using the native package installer. It will be interesting to see how the power users adapt to the switch to App Bundles in the coming months. Now, if you are someone interested in modding, go ahead and check out articles on installing ADB on Windows, running ADB from your web browser, and removing bloatware from Android phones.

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