Can You Run iPhone Apps on Android and Windows?

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While lots of iPhone apps have Android and/or Windows versions (this is especially true of apps from the biggest companies, like Facebook and Google, and some of the most popular games), many of the best mobile apps in the world only run on the iPhone.

In many other scenarios, emulators let you run programs made for one operating system on a device that uses another. Is that the case here? Can iPhone apps be run on Android or Windows?

Generally speaking, the answer is no: you can't run iPhone apps on other platforms. When you dig into the details, things get a little more complex. Using iPhone apps on other devices is very, very hard, but there are some (very limited) options for people who are really committed.

Why It's So Hard to Run iOS Apps on Android or Windows

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). The details of this are complex, but it's easiest to think of these elements falling into three broad categories: hardware architecture, hardware features, and software features.

  • Hardware architecture: When software developers create 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 M11 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 Notification Center widgets or iCloud, for instance—and finds that that feature isn't there, it won't be able to work.

Most developers get around this is by creating separate iPhone- and Android-compatible versions of their apps, but that's not the only solution. There's a long tradition in computing of emulation, creating a virtual version of one type of device that can run on another type of device.

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.

Can You Run iPhone Apps on Android? Not Right Now

The differences between the two leading smartphone platforms—iOS and Android—go far beyond the companies that 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.

In the past, there have been a few other iOS emulators for Android, including iEmu. While they may have worked at one time, these programs don't functions with recent versions of Android or the iOS.

Another option is a paid service called Appetize.io, which lets you run an emulated version of the iOS in your web browser. You can upload iOS apps to the service and test them there. This isn't the same thing as installing an Apple app on Android, though. It's more like connecting to another computer that runs the iOS and then streaming the results to your device.

Can You Run iPhone Apps on Windows? With Limitations

Windows users may have an option that Android users don't: 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.

That said, there are many reports that iPadian has installed malware or spam/ad programs on users' computers, so you probably want to avoid installing.

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, but it does mean that it's likely that more iPhone apps could have Windows versions in the future.

Can You Run Android Apps on Windows? Yes

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:

One Guaranteed Way to Run Apple Apps On Android

There's no surefire way to run an app designed for Apple devices like the iPhone on Android, as we've seen. However, there is one guaranteed way to run a small set of Apple apps on Android: Download them from the Google Play store. Apple does make a few apps for Android, most notably Apple Music. So, while this route won't let you run just any iOS app on Android, you can at least get a few.

The Bottom Line

Clearly, there aren't many 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.

It's unlikely that we'll ever see any really good tools for running the apps for the iPhone on other devices. That's because creating an emulator requires reverse engineering the iOS and Apple is likely to be extremely strict in preventing people from doing that.

Instead of hoping for an emulator, it's more likely that 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.