Android is the most brilliant example of how to do a closed system based on something open. The complete entrapment of APKs on the Play Store, even though it’s “soft” (developers could distribute their own APKs themselves, or at least on alternative stores, but most of them don’t bother), is one among the many ways Google uses to try and track everyone.
Gladly, some people worked on tools to manually fetch APKs. They remain limited due to all the restrictions imposed by Google, but are still better than nothing.
The first kind of tools requires you to have a device with Google services installed and linked to a Google account. I’m not really sure how useful this is, then: sure you can download APKs, but you are still tracked by the GMail man and you still have Google stuff on your device. Still, here is a brief list (I only found 2):
Long story short, those programs run locally on your PC, you need to provide them with your device ID and your Google account (I’d recommend creating a Google Account just for the occasion – if you do have a normal one even though you shouldn’t :p), and then they pretend to be your smartphone and grab what you want from the Play Store (I think it doesn’t work with paid apps though).
I tried APK downloader about 2 years ago, just after I rooted and “cyanogened” my phone, it worked fine. But since then I lost my device ID (:x) or maybe it got unlinked from my Google account anyway. Or maybe I forgot which Google Account I used to fetch APKs. I don’t know why I didn’t save those data. Duh.
Anyway, the second kind of tools is quite the same principle, although they are provided as a web service and you don’t have to use your own device ID and Google account as the service provides some. Sadly there isn’t a lot of them either:
- APK downloader (again: they provide both a Chrome extension and a webservice)
- apkleecher.com (seems very very similar to the previous one, I assume they’re both run buy the same guys?)
These will definitely not grab paid APKs: as you can understand, they probably don’t want to get into piracy issues. My advice on paid APKs is buy them from some other shop so as to discourage the Play Store monopoly. Aptoide, Amazon, SlideME… you have plenty to choose from and Wikipedia has a list. Enjoy.