On Friday of last week, a bunch of us at CrackBerry sat down for podcast to discuss all the changes going on inside of the company right now. For a good chunk of time we discussed the possibility of BlackBerry gaining full access to all of the apps in the Google Play store. Since that podcast we’ve seen several bits of news, so it seems like a good topic to dive into a bit deeper.
One of the biggest limitations of BlackBerry 10 is poor selection of apps. People can argue all they want about which apps matter, but there is no denying that consumers are avoiding the brand because the app store is very lightly populated compared to iOS and Android. On the podcast I also raised the point that any successful platform, in my mind, needs to have access to Google’s services, which are a mega force in the industry right now. Bring on the apps for Gmail, YouTube, Google+, Hangouts, Maps, Google Now, and anything else I may have missed.
One way to solve this would be for BlackBerry to abandon QNX, adopt Android, and build a custom user interface (or launcher) on top of Android. They could, at least in theory, bring us the BB10 experience we love (Hub, etc) while running Android. They would then easily be able to meet the Google terms and conditions in order to provide all of the Google apps people want, including full access to Google Play.
Of course, if they did this it would mean eliminating all aspects of their developer relations program. They wouldn’t need BlackBerry World, SDKs, or any of the people associated with that work. While that might help in cost cutting the corporate budget, it would mean giving up total control over your platform.
As Adam posted earlier today, CrackBerry reached out to BlackBerry to get an official statement on things. According to the statement, it’s not going to happen. BlackBerry says there is no planned support for Google Play.
In thinking about this, I came to the same conclusion as Kevin already posted in the forums. BlackBerry would likely shoot this rumor down regardless of the truth. With this in mind, let’s shove the Google Play story over to the side for now. We’d still love to see it happen, but we’ll have to wait to see how things play out.
Is there a better way around the problem?
Maybe there is. It’s looking like BlackBerry 10.2.1 might support direct loading of Android apps outside of any official app store. Remember when there was no BlackBerry World? How did we load apps? We visited a website and installed JAD files directly onto our device. It’s looking like we may be able to do exactly the same thing with Android APK files in the near future.
Remember when there was no BlackBerry World? How did we load apps? We visited a website and installed JAD files directly onto our device
This could be a very strong move forward in closing the app gap. Today, in they eyes of the average (non-techie) BlackBerry 10 user, BlackBerry World is the only place to get apps. Non-techies don’t sideload. They don’t convert APK to BAR files. They don’t download chrome extensions to sideload these BAR files, and they don’t go putting their device in developer mode. Yes, it’s easy to do. And it’s still irrelevant. Most consumers don’t do this stuff, so BlackBerry needs to make it dead easy.
If BlackBerry 10.2.1 runs an unlocked Android runtime it should mean that almost all Android apps run on BlackBerry devices. And if they enable auto-installation right over the web, then it means no special skills (or tools) are needed to sideload apps. There is already a pretty big semi-underground movement to provide those who want Android apps with the necessary APK files.
What will this do? It will give BlackBerry owners immediate access to key Android apps, including Google-created apps. It will show Android developers what kind of demand for their apps actually exists on BlackBerry, prompting them, perhaps, to release official BlackBerry versions. And if the numbers are eventually big enough, I expect even the mighty Google will support BlackBerry 10. It’s all about numbers.
The volume won’t be there today or even next year. But in time BlackBerry 10 numbers could justify support by bigger names. And BlackBerry just needs to make sure they survive through to that point. That’s why I believe making sideloading brain-dead easy is a smart move.
Let’s just hope it’s real.
Personally, I do not believe the brand can survive as a smartphone play without apps from Google and other big developers on Android.