[Hands-On] Generate Leanback Apps Through App Cloner

App Cloner is a relatively new app that has been covered a lot for its feature set. It allows users to pick one of their apps and create a copy of the app with a slightly different package name, allowing them to have multiple instances of the app available on their device. Why would someone want this? It could be useful for apps that only support a single account such as Instagram or Skype. With this you can have a personal Instagram and an Instagram for a brand account.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. You can access an even wider range of features including some great features to improve the Android TV experience, and if you pay a $3.99 in-app purchase, you get even more customization.

Leanback Support on Phones

The Leanback UI was developed by Google as an easily-implementable interface for media apps. Everything is arranged in logical grids that can be navigated by a DPAD and also supports search by voice. It was meant to run on TVs. However, thanks to the magic of App Cloner, you can run the Leanback app on your phone.

App Cloner Interface

App Cloner
There’s a few features relating to TVs

The interface is straightforward. You scroll through a list of your apps and then pick the one you want to clone. There’s a number of options to alter the icon and title (so you can tell it apart) and then options to change more in-depth manifest settings.

App Cloner
The cloning process is fairly quick

Once you’re ready to clone it, you’ll see a confirmation box. In order to clone an app and change settings, the software must do a simple decompilation. This is straightforward. An APK is like a zip file, all the resources can be opened and modified. However, in order to put things back together, App Cloner must resign the app with a digital signature. As their signature is not the same as the original app, this can break a few apps which rely on double checking signatures to ensure authenticity. This means Google Play Services may not work in these apps. While this may not break every app, it can definitely affect a lot of them.

Using a Cloned App

Original app, Leanback activity in cloned app, and normal activity in cloned app
Original app, Leanback activity in cloned app, and normal activity in cloned app

When the app is finished being cloned, you’ll be given the option to install this new app. Then it’ll appear in the app drawer. As Cumulus TV has the same app icon in all three instances, it may be difficult to identify them. (Changing the icon slightly can be a great help). Once you open the Leanback app, the screen is forced to landscape and then you can run it just like on a TV.

App Cloner

App Cloner

As the app isn’t properly signed, Google Play Services won’t be working. However, the rest of the app seems to work fine. You can navigate using your finger to scroll through the list of videos, and if you had a gamepad that would also work.

App Cloner
Layouts assume I’m on a TV

There’s a few glitches that show up because of the difference in using a phone versus a TV. In fact, it’s unlikely that this feature will work for a lot of apps. What is it good for? In the option’s description, they suggest TuneIn Radio.

TuneIn Radio

TuneIn Radio is a subscription service that gives you access to all kinds of audio content. It’s available on phones and Android TV. Blending the two of them though creates an interesting experience.

App Cloner

App Cloner

Leanback Support on TVs

App Cloner
I inverted the colors to easily distinguish it

This is all well and good, although the more interesting feature is the ability to clone apps with Leanback support. This is useful for the apps that technically support a gamepad and TV layout but don’t appear in the launcher. You could install secondary launchers like HALauncher or open it through the settings, but both of those workarounds are significant compromises to the intended behavior of the system. While emailing the developers will produce the ideal result, in the meantime users can clone the apps they want on their phone with Leanback support and share the APK to their TV for sideloading.

App Cloner

It becomes a leanback app, installing without issue and actually appearing in the launcher. ┬áIt would be nice for future updates to improve the banner a little bit, perhaps giving users more customization options or using Google’s Palette library to extract unique background colors based on the app icon.

App Cloner

As a reminder, resigning the app means that a lot of things may break, and it won’t make apps to support remotes.

Conclusion

Overall, this is a neat app. If you’ve got a few games that you’ve been itching to play on your TV, this is a great way to add Leanback support in the short-term. However, it’s not a panacea and won’t work everywhere. The IAP seems to be priced fairly for the amount of benefit power users would get (imagine how much time you’re saving), although it’s probably not worth it to the casual TV user.

The developer is responsive and has created a really great app so far. I don’t doubt that the product will continue to improve and become more beneficial over time. If you’re interested, it is free to download on the Google Play Store.

Nick Felker

Nick Felker

Nick Felker is a student Electrical & Computer Engineering student at Rowan University (C/O 2017) and the student IEEE webmaster. When he's not studying, he is a software developer for the web and Android (Felker Tech). He has several open source projects on GitHub (http://github.com/fleker)Devices: Moto G-2013 Moto G-2015, Moto 360, Google ADT-1, Nexus 7-2013 (x2), Lenovo Laptop, Custom Desktop.Although he was an intern at Google, the content of this blog is entirely independent and his own thoughts.

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