Android App Player on BlackBerry Q & A - Answers to the *Tough* Questions!

Android App Player FAQ
By Kevin Michaluk on 26 Oct 2011 07:54 pm EDT
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One of my favorite experiences at BlackBerry DevCon 2011 was the press briefing I attended on the topic of BlackBerry Runtime for Android Apps. Present from Research In Motion were Chris Smith, VP of the BlackBerry Development Platform, and Larry McDonough, Manager of Handheld Software Platform (focus on APIs and runtimes).

In addition to fielding questions, the goal of the session was to educate the press with demos of Android apps running on the PlayBook and to witness just how easy the re-packaging/porting process is. Normally a session like this is half demo, half Q&A, but with a lot of bloggers and media in attendance for this one the questions started flying within minutes and didn't slow down right up until the end. 

I actually recorded the audio from the session (on my Bold 9900 of course) have embedded it above for playback or you can download it here. You may have to crank up the audio to hear everything, but if you're interested in learning more about RIM's ambitions in supporting Android apps on the BBX platform, I suggest you listen. There's a lot of great stuff in here. Note - I was pretty fired up in this Q&A so ask a LOT of questions (seriously... I was the annoying kid in class who had his hand up the whole time). 

For those who don't have time to listen to the audio, below I've condensed and written up in my own words the answers to what I felt have been some of the biggest lingering questions on the topic of Android Apps on BlackBerry. Keep reading for more!

Android Apps on BlackBerry Q & A / FAQ / or whatever you wanna call it :)

Questions asked and answered in Kevin's words based on press conference audio above...

Q: What versions of Android will BBX Support?
A: Research In Motion plans to support any open-sourced versions of Android.  Currently version 2.3 is the newest version of Android that Google has released open source code for, so that's what the PlayBook OS / BBX currently support. When Google releases open source code for Ice Cream Sandwich, BBX will support that.

Q: Why can't users just install APK files onto BlackBerry?
A: RIM has their own security protocols, etc. on the QNX platform so they require apps to be in the .bar format. 

Q: What kind of apps are best suited to the Android app player?
A: RIM has found that ~70% of Android apps port over with little or no issue. Apps that suit the Android App Player best are apps that are self-contained (think games) or apps that pull in data from the web (apps for websites, etc.). We've been finding the compatibility % to be more along the lines of 50%. See this article for a BlackBerry developer's perspective.

Q: How important are Android apps to BlackBerry on the BBX platform? What % of apps in App World will be re-packaged Android Apps?
A: RIM wouldn't give a definite percentage here, but do think re-packaged apps will make up a significant contribution to the App World catalog. RIM also made it clear that Android apps on BlackBerry are more of a bonus to the ecosystem. RIM made it clear that the two main pillars of the BBX platform as presented during the DevCon keynote are HTML 5 (WebWorks SDK) and C++ (Native SDK). That being said, RIM wants to make it as easy as possible for apps to make it onto the platform, which is what the AIR SDK allows for as does the Android runtime. The most integrated apps (super apps) and high performing apps (games) will ideally be built on one of the primary platforms, but for developers looking to expose their apps to more ecosystems and get their foot in the door of BlackBerry, supporting android apps and flash apps makes good sense. 

Q: What Android APIs are not supported?
A: A whole bunch of Android hardware and software features are not supported through the APIs. RIM is working on reducing this list to make more of the APIs available, but also stated they will choose to not support certain ones for "business reasons." They wouldn't get into details here, so time will tell. For a full list of what's not supported, view this page on the BlackBerry website.

Q: Do I need the source code for an Android app to port it over to BlackBerry?
A: No, you just need the .apk file.

Q: So does that mean App World will run rampant with Android apps that were not intended to be in there?
A: No. The submission process is still the same here. You need to sign up as a developer with App World. If you submit apps, you need to have the rights to those apps for them to get published. 

Q: Will RIM do anything to stop individual PlayBook owners from sideloading Android apps onto their PlayBook that they don't have the rights to?
A: Crickets chirping. See our BlackBerry PlayBook Apps forum for lots of already-ported Android apps.

Q: To the consumer who owns a BBX device, will they know they are downloading Android apps from App World?
A: Not until they open the installed app (and even then they may not notice). Technically once ported to a .bar file and submitted to App World, these are BlackBerry apps and the developer is now a BlackBerry developer. Consumers browsing App World will not know if they are downloading an app that was ported over from Android. This is the same notion in that consumers don't know if they're downloading apps today that were built Native or in Flash. Once installed on the PlayBook, the application shortcut  style/treatment is exactly the same as any other app. However, once they open an app that was ported from Android, they will realize they are in an app that was originally developed for Android. Under the current implementation on the PlayBook OS 2.0, the app opens in the Android App Player. Also, app design intended for Android kind of stick out (settings screens designed to match Android UI, etc.).

Q: Will RIM push the fact that they are supporting Android Apps on BlackBerry?
A: The answer isn't 100% clear here from RIM, but impression is that the Android Apps on BlackBerry message is currently targeted towards Android developers, tech media, Wall Street and current PlayBook owners as an answer to the question of how is RIM going to get more apps on the platform. RIM's take is that an app on the platform is an app - consumers don't care what SDK it was built on. So it's very likely you won't see much consumer-facing marketing on Android app support when BBX phones PlayBook OS 2.0 arrive. Right now it's a message that has to be out there to get Android developers taking advantage of it, and to keep everybody in the loop, but once the apps are there and devices are on sale, it'll probably be a pretty quiet marketing message on Android app support.  Note - one of the reasons I think they won't want to make the message strong to consumers is that'll create confusion that all apps in the Android marketplace will be available on BBX devices - which will not be the case.

Q: Will the Android App Player experience look the same on the consumer release of PlayBook OS 2.0/BBX phones as it does right now on the developer beta of OS 2.0?
A: Not sure, but hopefully it will be changed from the current implementation. Right now the Android App Player opens as one app on the PlayBook. If you open additional Android apps, they load within the App Player (and you can toggle between them within the App Player) instead of opening multiple app instances as do other apps on the PlayBook OS. Personally I think this is a big issue as it breaks the user interface consistency on the PlayBook - so I think it's smart that they not release it as it is to consumers. They need Android apps to feel as native PlayBook as possible, which to me means running multiple app instances of Android apps at the same time, and being able to toggle between them with the standard gestures. It appeared to me that RIM is aware of this and working towards that goal. Other features are being implemented to help with this native feeling - for example, if Android apps require the keyboard, they popup the PlayBook's keyboard, not the Android keyboard. We're told a lot of "magic" is happening at the QNX level to interface Android into QNX for hardware and software calls.

Q: Has RIM been talking to Google about this Android App Player implementation on BlackBerry?
A: ........ No real answer, but definitely don't have the impression that this initiative has Google's permission or blessing, not that RIM needs it with open sourced versions of Android.

Q: Has RIM thought about ingesting Android apps from third party Android app marketplaces? So instead of bringing over apps from single developers, do a deal with a third party app store (that already has the relationships with lots of individual developers) to port over as much of their catalogs of apps as possible?
A: Definitely something that RIM has considered. Wouldn't confirm if they're doing it or not. This approach could immediately bring over a ton of apps to the platform, but could be a nightmare (developers waking up getting support emails for their apps in App World, even though they didn't put them there as it was one of their distributors that did).

Q: How have Android developers been responding to this initiative? How do you convert them from just porting over Android apps to developing for BlackBerry?
A: (From Larry talking about when he's doing presentations on this in the valley). At first the Android devs are sitting there with their arms folded, not looking that interested. By the time he shows them the tools and how easy it is, they're much more receptive and eager to test out all their apps. He's been finding a lot of Android developers know very little about the BlackBerry platform, so this is a great way to expose them to it and to making money and downloads from BlackBerry users (Android market isn't that great for making $$ for devs). As Android devs start to make money on App World, there should be a natural conversion for them to want to improve their apps (go native). And RIM will actively be working with developers to gear devs up to make the best apps possible.

Q: If a developer decides to re-make their Android app with another BlackBerry SDK, will they keep all their ratings, etc. in App World?
A: Yes, assuming the developer wants to. The app id, title, comments, ratings, etc. will carry through - the developer is just replacing the .bar file with an updated .bar file. App World doesn't know it's been replaced via a differently developed app.

Conclusion

There's still some work to be done with the implementation of the Android App Player on BBX, but for apps that do port over successfully the user experience should be pretty solid. For consumers, it means more apps in App World (and a fun time sideloading all the ones that are not in App World but you can find the .apk for). The existence of the Android App Player also makes for a great introduction for Android developers to get a taste of BlackBerry and even start making some money off the platform. It's widely known that most Android developers don't make a lot of money off of Android Marketplace. If/when they see some money rolling in from BlackBerry users it could get a lot of them more seriously looking at BlackBerry and the BBX platform. And for developers now contemplating whether to built or to port, they should definitely check out this article on it looking at the App Player from a developer perspective. 

35 comments

FIVEFIFTYWHAT

What exactly is 'sideloading'?
Can this Android stuff be done without the use of a pc?

cas118

You use a PC to load the App directly onto your PlayBook instead of AppWorld.

Because you're loading it yourself, from your own hardware, it's called sideloading (rather than 'downloading').

Air Force One

You can also sideload apps on Android by simply emailing yourself the apk. Much quicker/easier than connecting to the PC.

cas118

I'm glad to see that they are still working on a seamless Android App approach.

Using 2.0 my gut feeling was "this is too complicated for the average user".

And then "Android is more complicated than PB" :)

We'll wait and see. Again.

JonManu

All I hear is that Supertramp song that goes "Dreamer...nothing but a dreamer, but can you put your hands in your head? Oh no."

123berryaddicted

I personally think this was a waste of time for RIM... But that being said, its better than nothing and I am certainly looking forward to having a Kindle App (y)

Edit: btw Kevin, thanks for all your hard work with this years devcon, its to bad that it wasn't what we had all hoped it would be. But non-the-less, thanks again... We'll just keep waiting for RIM.

Kevin Michaluk

appreciate it! the hard work won't stop anytime soon... lots to come still in post-devcon coverage. have a long list of articles and editorials i need to find the time to write.

npunk42

Thanks Kevin.You really go the extra mile.After reading this I think I have a better idea how the path ahead is likely to be paved.

advcomputer

Kevin - With all due respect to you and your hard effort, why are you flaunting Playbook related topics today in-light of the events of the past several days.

Please find another topic other than the PB.

npunk42

If there is any Playbook news/rumour/gossip,anytime I'm glad to know it.

cas118

Why not - with the lack of a BBX phone to write up about and the knowledge that the BBX platform is going to be PlayBook AND BBX phones - I think that these posts are every bit relevant.

Probably more so now.

blackmoe

So the Feb release makes you want to pout?

q649

Awesome writeup Kevin, great job.

Posted from my PlayBook.

Huot

It is great that Android porting was shown at DevCon, but if 2.0 isn't available till February, only the beta folks will be able to use or buy them. Will this create a bad impression for people initially porting their apps, as they aren't making much money off them. Maybe RIM should comunicate this to people submitting so they know, and keep them interested.

Deathcommand

Oh.
So.. I'm assuming that list of a million not working apps is fake? :P

cycomyk

yeah right, all talks ... waiting continues

BurleyShells

So will the android apps work on BB phones too, or is this just for the couple dozen playbook owners?

MattBerry08

Thanks Again Kevin - I know its been said above, but you really are a huge asset to have.

Huot

The android player should see its way to the BBX, the two OS will be largely be the same they would have to strip the player out. BBX will have flash as well.

TongueDar

After listening to this... I've lost confidence in BlackBerry. :|

ghostzapper

Huge credibility problems at RIM.

The way RIM is executing CrackBerry will soon be a ghost town with tumbleweeds blowing down main street.

Kevin Michaluk

Nah.... not quite. Look at the state of webOS and PreCentral is still buzzing like crazy. Lotta BlackBerry fans in the world. CrackBerry will be a rocking for a long time to come. No worries there.

ghostzapper

Investors went code blue on the OS 2.0 announcement being delayed until Feb.

CharlieV#AC

Thanks for the great DEVCON coverage, including the above post. I just listened to the last podcast and appreciate your positive spin... The podcast was a bit off, but clearly as a reflection of what you witnessesd at DEVCON. The Android implementation, while in beta, is disappointing on so many fronts, not the least of which is that it is totally inconcistsent with the overall Blackberry UI experience and because it is a genuflect to an upstart OS by the granddaddy smartphone maker, and it detracts from QNX development.

Kevin I would like to hire you out to attend my son's next T-Ball game. The "Phillies" try their darndest, but they lose every single game by a wide margin. Thank goodness, there is a time limit to the games. When it is over, they always ask, "Did we win?" and, since they are 4-5 years old and have not developed a sense for misdirection, I always reply, "Did you have fun?" When they say yes, then I tell them they won. They all run to get a team drink and leave satisfied. I feel that if you were there, I could take a break and I know that after hearing you speak, they would go home thinking they'd won, no matter how dismal the score. ;)

Disappointed in all things DEVCON, Playbook, RIM, and QNX, but a devout believer in Crackberry and hopeful for the future, I remain,

A fan

jamesbyjr

Thanks Kevin. Great article even if we are disappointed... RIM should give the early adopters like myself a voucher to use on the purchase of our next BB phone. We paid full price for our device without any discounts ($200). I paid $599 for my Playbook in April, based on the premises of having the promised features (native email, and Android player). However, I am still enjoying my Playbook. I was able to use my Playbook for classes that I am taking at Villanova University. Therefore, I do not consider my investment a loss. In my case the device has paid for itself because I have made A's in three of my classes. In addition, I have been able to use the internet without paying for 3G. Actually, I cannot complain too much...:)

I think everyone is upset because RIM made promises that were not kept, which I can understand. My message to everyone is to keep your device if it is benefiting you and not costing you; apply the benefit/cost analysis. I have read that some people are thinking about selling their Playbooks and purchasing an IPad. However, you need to ask yourselves the following questions: will the iPad meet my needs, will I need an app for everything, or can I live without Adobe flash and "true" multi-tasking. In addition, those using the bridge feature, should ask themselves can I live without the bridge. When I asked myself these questions, my answer is no to all the questions. My Playbook has basically replaced my laptop. However, it will never replace my iMac; which, in my opinion is the best device that Apple has created. I am able to run virtual machines on my iMac. The Android player on the Playbook seems to be similar to a virtual machine, which is the reason why I think it will be a great addition to the Playbook ----------WHEN RIM GETS THEIR SH@T TOGETHER... RIM PLEASE DO NOT DISAPPOINT US WHEN FEBRUARY COMES AROUND. HAVE THE PLAYBOOK 2.0 READY FOR DEPLOYMENT. IN ADDITION, NEXT, HAVE THE SUPER PHONE READY FOR DEPLOYMENT.

Crackberry Friends, stay strong and keep your heads up. I believe the 2.0 software will be awesome whenever RIM does release it, which is the reason why I would say, at this point,just stay the course because we probably have more to lose by jumping ship, and then possibly looking back with regrets... Most of the time when I have jumped ship, I have looked back with regrets due to major loses...

john_kaufman

QUOTED: "If you open additional Android apps, they load within the App Player (and you can toggle between them within the App Player) instead of opening multiple app instances as do other apps on the PlayBook OS. Personally I think this is a big issue as it breaks the user interface consistency on the PlayBook ..."

I don't think opening multiple, separate instances of the player is feasible. The Android "player" is a virtual machine, and as such is resource intense when loaded (read as 'eats memory and CPU'). Loading multiple separate instances of the Android VM, while providing a more consistent experience, would simply run the machine out of it's 1GB of memory too quickly.

My opinion is that the ability to load Android apps may lead to quicker adoption of the hardware, which in turn, over time, would increase the viability of developers choosing to build native BBX apps. It's a good strategy that will likely pan out, even this late in the game... the real hurdle will be convincing consumers to purchase a premium priced PlayBook before the Android based 'commodity' tablet prices fall too far. I'm a happy PB owner and I've got to tell ya, the multi-front challenge RIM is facing on this gambit is one of my favorite tech soap operas ;-)

I seriously hope they pull it off; my patient fingers are crossed.

bcuffy

Are you guys trying to ware out the patience of the blackberry saints?

brucep1

Good work Kevin, thanks for all your hard work. Can't wait to see the rest of the articles you find time to write!

mr_zed10

I have another question:

Q: I have installed 2.0, and my question is, why on earth haven't you fixed the bug that makes the Playbook restart when you choose "Standby" ?

mavricxx

I just want Skype, Yahoo Messenger, OoVoO and Google Talk dammit! C'mon RIM please bring these out before OS 2.0.

dnice6699

I updated to the new 2.0 OS and there is no app player on the updated version 2.0.0.3778

IAmDonFrazier

Two questions... Is there anywhere on the CrackBerry site where I can find a step by step to downloading these apps onto my PlayBook? Next, when are we getting Netflix and Skype?

MANY21NYC

i now own my PB 4 hrs and updated it .. and it seem the same to me just some new add-on features .. really not really a big difference ... to me ... and as i really anticipated the actual ANDROID app store on it to be built in but ... i have to side load.. WT H e l l is that lol .. i figure it out after speed reading fast and manage to up load some apps which work with a few glitches that i had to restart my playbook several times .. to get the apps to load properly and had to keep closing and opening the app so it to finally load ... i really was expecting the ANDROID store on in directly just like my phone .. but u get what u paid for ... NO NETFLIX NO SKYPE not that i used it but is good to have the option too.. so loading Music . music VIDEOS. MOVIES .. so i can show off the playbook later on today ... but i had very high hopes for the PB that i bought 2 of them **returning 16gb and keeping 64gb ** ... . RIM i feel very under-promised in some way but i admit good sales catch on lowering your item ... and BTW the car game is awesome.. and specially that FPS game as-well that's free on the app world ass a launch gift ... my star rating is 2.5 in total out of 5 for the PB... do i recommend.. NO just because of NETFLIX.. and NO DIRECT android app store ... that would made it easy instead SIDE loading !!!! ...

If Money would talk it would say " GOOD BYE "

buwee

It's not RIM that doesn't want Netflix - it's Netflix that doesn't want to develop for PB. If you want Android Market so badly why did you buy the PB?? - Anyone that has done their research would have already known there was not going to be Android Market in it.