Can You Run iPhone Apps on Android and Windows?

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Last Updated: April 30, 2015

While lots of iPhone apps also have Android and/or Windows versions (this is especially true of apps from the biggest companies, like Facebook and Google, and the most popular games), many of the best mobile apps in the world are only available in the iPhone App Store. But does that mean users of other platforms are totally shut out of using those apps?

Mostly it does, but not completely.

While using iPhone apps on other devices is very, very hard, there are some (very limited) options for people who are really committed.

Why It's Difficult

Running apps designed for one operating system on a different OS is a serious challenge. That's because an app designed to be used on the iPhone, for instance, requires all sorts of iPhone-specific elements to function correctly (the same is true of Android and other OSes). These elements falls into three broad categories: hardware architecture, hardware features, and software features.

  • Hardware architecture—When developers write and compile their apps, the apps are designed to work on specific smartphone hardware. For instance, the app may be designed to work on a certain type of processor, and without that processor the app won't run.  
  • Hardware features—Some apps employ hardware features only offered by the devices they run on. Think of the iPhone's Touch ID fingerprint scanner or M8 motion co-processing chip. If an app requires you to log in using your fingerprint, but there's no scanner on the phone, the app won't work.
  • Software features—This is the software version of the hardware requirement from the last point. If an app tries use a specific software feature—like iOS 8's widgets or iCloud, for instance—and finds that that feature isn't there, it won't be able to work.

The way most developers get around this is to create separate iPhone- and Android-compatible versions of their apps, of course, but that's not the only solution.

There's a long tradition in computing of emulation, the process of creating a virtual version of one type of device on another.

Macs have a number of good options for running Windows, via Apple's Bootcamp or the third-party Parallels software, among others. These programs create a software version of a PC on the Mac that can convince Windows and Windows programs that it's a real computer. Emulation is slower than a native computer, but it offers compatibility when you need it.

So, getting iPhone apps to run on other OSes is difficult, and may not provide the best experience, but is it impossible? No.

Running iPhone Apps on Android: Not Right Now

The differences between the two leading smartphone platforms—iOS and Android—go far beyond the companies who make the phones and the people who buy them. From a technological perspective, they're very different. As a result, there are not a lot of ways to run iPhone apps on Android, but there is one option.

A team of student programmers at Columbia University have developed a tool called Cycada that allows iOS apps to work on Android. The drawback? It's not publicly available right now. 

Perhaps that will change, or perhaps their work will lead to other, generally available tools.

In the meantime, you can learn more about Cycada here.

Running iPhone Apps on Windows: With Limitations

There is an iOS simulator for Windows 7 and up called iPadian. There are a number of limitations to the tool—you won't be able to access the App Store using it; iPhone apps have to be made compatible with it and very few are—but it will get at least some apps running on your PC.

NOTE: There are a number of reports that iPadian has installed malware or spam/ad programs on users' computers, so proceed with caution.

A recent announcement from Microsoft has added a wrinkle to the idea of running iPhone apps on Windows.

In Windows 10, Microsoft has created tools to allow iPhone app developers to bring their apps to Windows with relatively few modifications to their code. In the past, creating a Windows version of an iPhone app might have meant rebuilding virtually from scratch; this approach reduces the amount of extra work developers will need to do.

This isn't the same thing as taking an app downloaded from the App Store and being able to run it on Windows right away, but it does mean that it's likely that many more iPhone apps will have Windows versions in the future.

Running Android Apps on Windows: Yes

As we've seen, the iPhone-to-Android path is pretty difficult, but if you have an Android app you'd like to use on Windows, you've got more options. While these programs are also likely to have some compatibility and performance problems, if you're really committed to running Android apps on Windows, they can help:

The Bottom Line

Clearly, there aren't a lot of good options for running iPhone apps on other devices. For now, it makes more sense to either just use apps that also have Android or Windows versions, or to wait for them to be developed, than to try to use spotty third-party software.

My guess is that we won't ever see any really good tools for running the apps from one platform on another. Instead, as the tools for developing one app and deploying it on multiple platforms become more powerful and efficient, it will be increasingly common that major apps are released for all platforms.

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