Update, 5/2/2019: LauncherHijack, mentioned in the post below, has abruptly stopped working. As the posters to this XDA Developers forum thread determined, Amazon has apparently blocked any package by that specific name from running, and working around it is as simple as rebuilding the package with a new name. There’s a link to a renamed and rebuilt APK file in the thread, and I’ve tried it and it does work—though the usual cautions about installing packages from unverified sources apply.

I’ve enjoyed using my Fire HD 8 tablet as my “main” Android tablet these last few months, but I finally got fed up with some of the annoyances of the built-in Fire launcher. There weren’t any huge annoyances, which is why it took so long to get fed up, but finally I got tired of the lack of an app drawer where I could access an app right away if I couldn’t remember what folder I’d put it in. I also missed having access to launcher widgets, and the ease of swiping left to get to the Google Assistant.

The problem is, Amazon doesn’t provide any easy way to change launchers. Some launchers will let you run them manually—but my favorite launcher, the Google Now launcher, won’t. It helpfully told me I needed to change the launcher setting in my settings menu, but that’s a setting that the Fire’s settings menu doesn’t have.

Fortunately, as with many Fire annoyances, clever Android hackers out there have come up with a way around it, and you don’t even need to root your tablet to make it work. Here’s how you do it.

  1. It should go without saying, but if you’re going to want to add a new launcher from the Play Store, you first have to install the Play Store on your Fire. Remember, you may also have to register your Fire with Google to get it to let you log into the store.
  2. Install the launcher you want to use, and make sure it will run on your Fire at all. (Or, in the case of Google Now, that it will tell you to change your launcher setting.)
  3. Install the latest version of LauncherHijack. You can download it here. Just use your Fire to browse to that link and tap on the file that ends with “APK.”
  4. Go into your Fire’s Settings -> Accessibility menu, scroll down to the very bottom, and make sure that “To detect home button press” is set to “on.” (This option won’t appear until you’ve installed LauncherHijack, so do that first.) It may warn you that this type of option can allow someone to steal anything you type in, such as credit card numbers—that’s a standard warning for any plug-in that can intercept device input, such as a custom keyboard, so don’t pay it too much mind.
  5. Run LauncherHijack, and tap on the launcher you want to use. If the launcher doesn’t appear on the list, you may need to restart the tablet and try again. On some tablets, I’ve had to restart a couple of times before it started working.
  6. If you want to change launchers back, run LauncherHijack and tap the triple-dot “options” icon at the top right. Uncheck the box to hide system files and the Fire’s default launcher, “Home,” should appear in the list.

And that should be that. For more information, see LauncherHijack’s homepage on the XDA Android hacking forums.

Changing the launcher brings the Fire up to about 90% as useful as a “real” Android tablet. There are still a few little differences in the way the Fire does things—the settings menus and link-sharing dialogue are still FireOS’s, among other things—but if you’ve been frustrated that you couldn’t get the launcher to act like you wanted it to, this should allow you to change that.

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