Android users can download and install applications on their mobile devices through one of three channels: Google Play, sideloading or a third-party digital distribution platform, such as Amazon Appstore. Google Play is the native distribution platform for Android apps and is considered the safest and most preferential of the three.
To download an Android app through Google Play, users use the search function built into the platform to look for the app they want to install. After selecting an app, tapping the Install button to begins the installation process. Google Play manages the entire process and users are notified when the app becomes available for them to use.
When an app is not available on Google Play, users can opt to "sideload" it instead. Sideloading involves downloading the app's APK file, which is a special installation program for Android apps. The APK can then be used to manually install the app on a device. Developers who do not distribute their apps through Google Play typically post download links to their APKs on their websites. When sideloading apps, users must enable the Unknown Sources option in the Security settings menu. This may expose the device to viruses, so care must be taken to ensure that APKs are only downloaded from trusted sources.
Third-party digital distribution platforms are essentially a simplified means of sideloading apps. They provide an interface similar to Google Play for searching for and downloading apps but also expose users to the same risks as manual sideloading.