We already know Amazon’s powerful new set-top box runs Android and offers up an impressive list of content options for you to choose from, but what if you want something that isn’t on the list? Amazon has made it so side-loading apps is not only incredibly easy, but downright encouraged if you are a developer.
One of the big hopes with Google TV was that the use of Android as the underlying OS would mean access to the massive app library that is available on the platform, including the overwhelming number of games, streaming, and local content apps. This turned out to be less than true, due to a combination of platform restrictions put in place by the content providers, restrictions put in place by Google, and the limitations found in the hardware used in the devices that had been sold at the time.
While Google seems to have found an elegant streaming solution with their Chromecast platform, there remains a feature gap that no other Android device is really addressing. That is, until Amazon released the Fire TV.
Amazon’s box is running Android 4.2.2 with some heavy UI and feature modifications to suit their needs. While it may look wildly different from the Android platform so many are used to, underneath it all runs the same. In fact, Amazon has made it so accessing the device remotely and side-loading apps is incredibly simple.
If you don’t already have the Android Debug Bridge installed, you’ll need that to move forward. Once you have it, you’ll need to enable ADB on the Fire TV by heading to Settings System Developer Options and flipping the toggle labeled ADB Debugging from Off to On.
On your desktop, you’ll now be able to connect to the Fire TV over your local network via ADB Connect. Grab the IP address from your Fire TV, which is located in Settings System About Network, and in your Terminal or DOS Prompt type in adb connect :5555 and hit enter. You should get a response that confirms you are connected to that IP address, but you can also type adb devices and confirm in the list that follows that command that you are connected.
Once you are connected via ADB, you can side load an APK file by typing adb install. After the app transfers to the Fire TV and installs you will get a Success response, and you can now use the app on your TV.
Apps that you have side loaded using this method will not show up in the apps list on your home screen. The only content you will ever see in the Home area is Amazon approved content. In order to see and interact with the app you have installed, you need to go to Settings Apps and look for your app in the list. You can launch the app from this list and use it like you would any other app, but unless you also install a custom launcher you’ll need to go to this list to see the apps you are side-loading.
When we grabbed XBMC to side-load, we found that the app ran exactly the way we expected. The controller worked well in navigating the entire UI, and it even loaded fairly quickly. This version of XBMC didn’t support hardware acceleration on Android, so the performance during playback was less than optimal. To remove this version of the app so we could install a version that better supported the hardware, you can just use the uninstall function in the UI on the Fire TV and it’s gone.
There’s still plenty of exploring to be done with this little set top box. It’s possible with a little love from the Android community that this machine could do all kinds of crazy things, and Amazon has clearly left the doors open for us to do exactly that. It’s also great for the things Amazon actually designed it to do, but what’s the fun in just using it the way it was intended?