It’s hard to overstate the popularity of EmulationStation. Across almost every platform, OS, and form factor in this hobby, people swear by ES-DE as a frontend that provides one of the most unified and cohesive experiences you can get in the retro emulation space.

ES-DE’s recent Android port promises to bring this same experience to the most powerful and best-value handhelds on the market – but it’s still missing some key features. The most prominent of these is the fact that you can’t set it as your device’s main launcher, meaning that pressing ‘Home’ on your Odin 2, for example, will take you back to the stock Android launcher instead of your pristine curated frontend.

The developer has stated that they won’t be implementing this ability to set ES-DE as your home screen any time soon, because of another missing feature – the ability to launch Android apps. The dev says that they don’t want people to accidentally lock themselves out of their devices by removing access to their app library, which is understandable.

The dev does intend on implementing this feature eventually, but you don’t need to wait for it – there’s an applet that lets you add Android apps to your ES-DE installation right now! It’s called es_applauncher, and we’ll show you how to set it up in this article.


Firstly, you’ll want to download the latest version of es_applauncher from the project’s GitHub here.

Next, you’ll want to grab some custom XML files from another GitHub page, es-de-android-custom-systems. These will add extra platform listings to ES-DE, allowing us to launch our Android apps and games, as well as re-adding some systems that were removed following the Yuzu/Citra settlement.

Click on the green ‘Code’ button, then ‘Download ZIP’. Extract the file into your purpose-made emulation tools folder, if you’re neat and tidy, or just dump it into your Downloads like the rest of us.

A screenshot of the GitHub page for the custom XML files needed to add Android apps to ES-DE.

Then, you’ll need to copy those two XML files into a folder named ‘custom_systems’, inside your ES-DE install folder. (By default, this will be a folder titled ‘ES-DE’ on your device’s internal storage.)

A screenshot of the Windows 11 file manager, showing the filepath where the custom XML files will need to be placed.

After that, copy the es_applauncher APK over to your device and install it. Once that’s installed, simply open the app, and it will show you a list of all your installed apps.

A screenshot of the es_launcher applet, showing the app list in the middle, as well as the Save and Picture buttons.

By default, every app you have installed will be imported into ES-DE. To exclude an app, simply tap on the app’s icon, name, or the ‘Disable’ checkbox on the far right. You can also mark specific apps as games by tapping the ‘Game’ checkbox.

After you’ve chosen all of your apps, tap on the Save icon in the top right. Navigate to your ROMs folder, then press ‘Use this folder’. (You may have to grant es_launcher permissions to do this – in this case, the dev recommends pressing Save again just to be sure.)

Optionally, you can also export your app/game icons to ES-DE. Press on the Picture icon to the left of the Save button, then navigate to your ES-DE install folder. Make a folder named ‘downloaded_media’ (if it isn’t there already), then press ‘Use this folder’.

After you’ve exported all your games and apps, close out of es_applauncher. Then, restart ES-DE – and all your Android apps and games should be there, in their own categories!


This little applet helps move ES-DE a lot further toward full Android functionality. It won’t fix the fact that you can’t set EmulationStation as your home screen, but there are workarounds for that as well, such as using button remapping tools to set your ‘Home’ or ‘Back’ buttons to send you straight to your frontend.

Hopefully, the dev will officially implement this functionality sooner rather than later, but for now, this is an effective solution. Huge thanks to dev schattenphoenix for his work on the app, and to GlazedBelmont et al. for their work on the custom XML files which add all those extra systems we missed so dearly!

What did you think of this article? Let us know in the comments below, and chat with us in our Discord!

This page may contain affiliate links, by purchasing something through a link, Retro Handhelds may earn a small commission on the sale at no additional cost to you.