How to side-load apps on the Ouya console

The other day I finally had a chance to share my hands-on impressions of the Ouya gaming console. One of my complaints was that the software library wasn't really there yet.

Well one of the advertised strengths of the Ouya is that it is an open console, and users wasted no time in started to 'side-load' apps from sources other than the Ouya store. If you're someone who regularly roots and/or hacks your Android device, the process is pretty trivial, but if you're new to this world (like I was) there're some details that can trip you up.

Today I wanted to do a detailed step-by-step on moving an app from an existing device to your Ouya. For this example I'm going to use a Nexus 7, and I'm going to use Dropbox as my conduit between the two devices. On the Ouya you can access Dropbox's web interface, but using the app is much easier, so for my example we'll be moving the Dropbox apk (Android package) from the Nexus 7 to the Ouya so that further down the line the process is a little easier.

You can probably accomplish this a number of ways, but this is how I did it.

1) On the Nexus 7 install Dropbox (if you haven't already) and log into it. Then install Gemini App Manager and Astro File Manager. These are all free apps.

2) Run Gemini and on the menu across the bottom of the screen, choose Backup. You'll see a list of all the apps installed on the device. Find DropBox, tap it and choose "Backup to SDCard". Gemini will flash the destination much too quickly for it to register, but trust that it's backed up.

3) Now run Astro. The first time you run it it'll ask for permission to access various services you have on your device. Make sure to approve Dropbox. Once you get to the main menu of Astro, tap "My Files." Astro should default (check the breadcrumbs across the top of the interface) to My File => storage => sdcard0. If for some reason it doesn't, use the up arrow at the top left corner of the app to move up as far as you need to, then drill back down to sdcard0. From there tap on gmutils => backup=>apk. You should see a file (Astro defaults to an icon view, but this is the apk file.) Press on this (don't tap it..if you tap Astro will try to install it) and on the menu that pops up in the bottom right, choose Share. From the "Choose an action" dialog pick Add to Dropbox, then find a handy spot to place the file in your dropbox account and tap Add.

OK you're done with the Nexus 7. Head to the Ouya!

4) From the Ouya's main menu, choose Make, then Software. The tile with the globe in it is your web browser. Fire it up. You need to go to Dropbox's web interface. Hit the Y button to move focus to the location bar, then use the onscreen keyboard to type in and hit Go. Use the trackpad to navigate to the Login link in the top right of the dropbox home page and tap to activate it and log in.

5) Now you should be looking at your dropbox account. You can navigate this page using the d-pad or even the left analog stick. The O button drills in and the A button backs out of folders. Once you get to where you stashed your backed up file, highlight it and hit the O button to start downloading it.

6) Double-tap the Ouya button on the controller to return to the main menu. Go to Manage => System => Advanced. You'll now be looking at a generic Android settings page. Navigate down to Storage, and then drill into Downloads. You should see your dropbox apk file there. Highlight it and tap the O button to get an Android install dialog. Install it and for the sake of this demonstration, hit Done (you could just Open it from here as well).

7) Use the A button to back out of settings. Now go to Make => Software again, and you should see that there's now a Dropbox app installed. All the software you sideload shows up here under Make => Software. When you run the Dropbox app you'll have to login the first time.

And that's the basics.

Now that you have the dropbox app installed things are a little bit easier. The process on the Nexus 7 is the same, but when you get to the Ouya you'll just go to Make => Software => Dropbox, navigate to the apk you want to install, highlight it and hit O to install it. Pretty simple.

So all of that is the good news. Now here's the bad news. I wanted to sideload apps because I wanted to try to get some better games. The bad news is so far I haven't had a lot of luck. First, you have to find games that include controller support, of course. Then, many of the better Android games install a 'stub' app from the Google Play store and then download a lot more data the first time you run them. That step won't work on the Ouya (I'm told it requires root access to perform this step.) In other cases when I tried to backup a game to move it, I ran into DRM issues that prevented the backup from happening.

So this is all still a work in progress, but there's a long thread on the Ouyaforum that lists games and apps that do work. Stuff like Hulu Plus, Netflix and Pandora apparently work (haven't tested them yet) so you might have better luck sideloading apps instead of games.

Oh and when you're done with an app and want to get rid of it, you have to go back to the Settings menu, navigate to the Apps section, find the app, select it and choose uninstall.

The Ouya still feels pretty wild and wooly but I have to confess it's growing on me. Right now it really feels more like a toy for geeks than something you'd want to get a casual gamer, but hopefully that will change over the next few months.

If you've sideloaded any cool games or apps for your Ouya, please leave a comment telling us what they are. And last of all, I want to thank the very kind people of the Ouya G+ Community for teaching me how to sideload apps, so I could pass that know-how along.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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