Android Apps on BlackBerry: Is This the New Way?
This week RIM have been promoting their BlackBerry Runtime for Android Apps which allows developers to make a few tweaks, repackage their Android apps online then upload them to BlackBerry App World. This should make porting between Android and BlackBerry simple and removes some of the challenges of porting between operating systems to ensure that an app gets the widest distribution possible.
Of course, there are other ways of porting between operating systems and it isn’t necessary for all apps to be written natively for each platform. However, this development is interesting because it shows that operating systems don’t necessarily have to be standalone ecosystems. While it makes sense for core features such as app stores and cloud services to be exclusive to one platform – after all, the vendor does have to persuade the consumer to join their ecosystem – content can and always has been able to cross these borders.
Nevertheless, there are some drawbacks to this. Not all Android APIs (Application Programming Interface) or hardware features are supported, so some apps might not work and the repackager tweaks the apps slightly to take into account the difference in physical buttons between the PlayBook and Android devices, which might spoil the layout of an app. In-app purchases are not supported either as, understandably, the Runtime cannot perform Android Market calls. Apps being repackaged for the PlayBook must be compatible with a specific version of Android (for the curious, it’s Android 2.3.3). Also, developers must rid their app of any mention of Android and its green robot mascot.
So, what does this mean for BlackBerry developers? Will they face increased competition from developers who have previously only written for Android?
The answer is most likely not. The runtime hasn’t yet been included in their handsets, although it will feature in BlackBerry 10 which is due later this year. Unlike native applications, repackaged apps will not be able to access the full functionality of the device – for example, developers looking to create an app which uses the camera, will have to code a native app. For Android developers, the runtime means that they can very easily tap into a market which is currently underserved in terms of app numbers.
So, how does this strategy help RIM? Most importantly, it allows RIM to concentrate on the key features that makes BlackBerry special rather than on attracting developers away from the Apple and Android ecosystems. However, only time will tell if this strategy will prove successful.