BlackBerry Z10 with Android launcher

Today on Talk Mobile we're looking at cross-platform apps, so what better time to re-examine what the Android app player means for BlackBerry 10? When the Android runtime made its debut on the PlayBook, a lot of users were hoping that it would be a good kick-start to app selection for BlackBerry’s new platform. BB10 rolled into town and the Android app player along with it, but my initial worry never subsided: wouldn’t this mechanism just enable developers that are undermanned or too skittish to invest in a proper native BlackBerry 10 app? What pressure could they feel to make the leap to native?

In theory, providing Android developers an on-ramp to BB10 lets them see what the interest is for their existing app among BlackBerry users before they make a full-fledged native version, and to be fair, we’re starting to see a few instances of that happening, namely with Songza and WordPress. However, most Android ports get panned in short order in BlackBerry World reviews. Developers can take that feedback in one of two ways: either they’re seeing negative feedback and therefor conclude it’s not worth their while to come to BlackBerry 10, or they realize they need to go native in order to meet the standards of people eager to use (but disappointed in) their app.

Why all the hate? For one, there’s the simple issue of platform pride. If you’ve ever ducked into the CrackBerry forums, you’ll know BlackBerry fans are a proud lot, and developers that aren’t willing to at least attempt to fit in are going to be fighting an uphill battle. To be fair, the Android artifacts are fairly jarring. When you’re use to the standard Cascades-style user interface, and all of a sudden you have to do weird diagonal bezel gestures to go back, and text cursors are in a very obviously foreign style, it’s easy to feel a disconnect in the user experience.

Beyond that, there are simple performance issues that lower the quality of many Android ports. While the vast majority of them remain usable, slight lags in responsiveness and framerate can dampen what could have been an entirely acceptable experience. With any luck, the inclusion of Jelly Bean support in 10.2 will improve the quality of Android apps on BlackBerry across the board.

What concerns me most is that if developers are replacing their current BlackBerry World listing for their Android port with a native one, they’ll be bogged down by poor reviews made by folks unlikely to go back and revise their five-star rating after the app has gone native. The alternative is starting up a new listing with fewer reviews and download numbers (which are needed to get onto the top downloads charts). Neither of those situations are particularly great.

So what’s BlackBerry to do? What about end users? Developers? Well, BlackBerry’s on the right track, I think. Including the runtime on BlackBerry wasn’t an admission of defeat, as many Android diehards may be inclined to believe, but rather an aggressive poaching of developers by exploiting the openness of a competing platform. Despite all of their complaints, end users ultimately get a good deal out of the whole thing. Even if developers don’t bring their apps willingly to BB10, tech-savvy users (and many users coming to BlackBerry from Android will be the tinkering type) can sideload just about any Android app with minimal fuss. That said, an attachment to a particular app won’t be a dealbreaker for switching platforms, which was one of our Talk Mobile topics this week

This puts developers in a tricky position. BlackBerry is more than willing to work with devs already steeped in Android and other environments. Meanwhile, hungry end users are perfectly willing to pirate Android apps to BB10 if they have to in order to get their fix. So, do developers throw those hardcore users a bone and potentially stem piracy with a more official Android port, but have to deal with BlackBerry World reviews, or are they shouldered into devoting the resources to creating and maintaining a native BB10 app with whatever support BlackBerry is able to offer? Maybe they'll see the issue as small enough to ignore, but as BlackBerry regains its footing with a maturing platform and new devices, that's going to become harder to do. 

Developers, it would be great to hear about your cross-platform experience either here, or in our related Talk Mobile piece today.