Android Emulator on Apple M1 machines

What options do we have for running Android apps on macOS?

  • Android Studio
  • BlueStacks
  • Android SDK CLI

Android Studio is a large application built on top of IntelliJ IDE with a download size of over 900 MiB. That’s a lot to install and keep up to date when all we need is an emulator!

In the past, I have had a good experience with BlueStacks (which is still a medium-sized app). Unfortunately, they don’t support Mac computers with M1 chips and macOS 12 Monterey.

Fortunately, setting up Android Emulator via CLI is easier than I expected:

  1. Install Java runtime
  2. Install Android SDK
  3. Download Android Emulator and Android system components
  4. Create a new virtual device
  5. Done!

Java runtime

Android tooling is built in Java, therefore you need Java runtime installed on your machine. Using Homebrew:

$ brew install openjdk

Let’s verify that our Java runtime is native M1. Inspect the executabl using file command and check the architecture is arm64:

$ file /opt/homebrew/opt/openjdk/bin/java
/opt/homebrew/opt/openjdk/bin/java: Mach-O 64-bit executable arm64

Android SDK

Android SDK is a set of CLI tools for building Android applications. Importantly, it includes the tool called sdkmanager which can download additional components. We will use this tool to install the emulator component, system images to boot the emulator and other required packages.

For better or worse, the process to install command line tools only is manual.

  1. Download a ZIP file with the tools from the Android Studio homepage.

    While there are two different builds of Android Studio for Intel and M1 chips, there is a single download for command-line tools. No need to worry! Command-line tools are shell scripts delegating platform-specific work to Java.

  2. Extract the content of the archive to the Library folder in your home directory. Typically, Safari will extract the ZIP archive into your Downloads folder. All you need is to move the files to the right place.

    It’s important to place the files in the exact path shown below, as some Android tools make assumptions about the file system layout.

    $ mkdir -p ~/Library/Android/sdk/cmdline-tools/latest
    $ mv ~/Downloads/cmdline-tools/* ~/Library/Android/sdk/cmdline-tools/latest
  3. Finally, update your PATH environment variable to include Android tooling. Add the following block to your ~/.zsh or ~/.bashrc file:

    export ANDROID_SDK_ROOT=$HOME/Library/Android/sdk
    if [ -d $ANDROID_SDK_ROOT ]
  4. Now we can verify that sdkmanager works:

    $ sdkmanager --version

Android Emulator

With the necessary tooling installed, the next step is to download various Android components:

$ sdkmanager "platform-tools" "emulator" \
  "platforms;android-30" \

This command will install the following packages:

  • platform-tools: quoting the description from Android docs:

    Android SDK Platform-Tools is a component for the Android SDK. It includes tools that interface with the Android platform, such as adb, fastboot, and systrace. These tools are required for Android app development. They’re also needed if you want to unlock your device bootloader and flash it with a new system image.

  • emulator: a program that simulates Android devices on your computer and provides almost all of the capabilities of a real Android device.

  • system-images;android-30;google_apis_playstore;arm64-v8a: system image for arm64 (Apple M1) platform, including access to Google Play Services and Google Play Store. The number 30 refers to API level, here we are picking Android 11 (API level 30). This image is required by the emulator to boot Android OS.

  • platforms;android-30: the SDK Platform is required to compile apps. Apparently, the emulator requires it too. It’s important to pick the same API level you choose for the system image (android-30 in my case).

Virtual device

Now we can create a virtual Android device to run in the emulator. Notice the package value – it’s the name of the system image you downloaded via sdkmanager in the previous step.

$ avdmanager create avd \
   --name "android30" --device "pixel" \
   --package "system-images;android-30;google_apis_playstore;arm64-v8a"

You can create as many virtual devices as you like. Just repeat the step above with different parameters.

Start the emulator

Here comes the easiest part: start the emulator using the name of the virtual device created in the previous step.

$ emulator -avd android30

Congratulations, you have a working Android Emulator now and can run any Android applications you like.


Enable hardware keyboard

By default, the emulator offers an on-screen keyboard for touch typing. This works great on mobile phones with touch screens, but not so much on a MacBook with no touch support! The process of logging into your Google account without a proper keyboard is rather frustrating.

Fortunately, the emulator can accept input from your computer keyboard. Just enable hardware keyboard in your virtual device config which is stored in ~/.android/avd/android30.avd/config.ini (replace android30 with the name of your device).

- hw.keyboard = no
+ hw.keyboard = yes

Install applications from APK files

If you choose a system image that includes Play Store, then you can install Android applications directly from the official app store.

Either way, you can also install applications from APK files. Run the following command while the emulator is running:

$ adb install my-app.apk