Re-examining the BlackBerry 10 Android app player

BlackBerry Z10 with Android launcher
By Simon Sage on 19 Jun 2013 02:52 pm EDT

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.

Reader comments

Re-examining the BlackBerry 10 Android app player


Why can't BlackBerry push updates to devices via BlackBerry themselves (via PIN, IMEI, or serial numbers? Why do they have to go through carriers?

Posted via CB10

This statement is bs... what are they gonna do? ban the sells of BlackBerry and piss off thousands their own customers.

Sent from my BB10 smartphone.

Because the the promoting they are already doing is so great as it is, it can't get any worse

Posted via CB10

If the carriers stopped buying BB because of outrageous demands, as much as people would be pissed off, they'd still buy something. (Obviously, that applies to any platform) Carriers don't need BB to succeed.

I really dont mind the android player, as long as it runs smooth and has full compatibility with all Android apps that is : )

Ya but that's the thing, not all apps work and as of right now, there still isn't a push to have developers submit their Android apps that even do work. Sure, there has been some big names appear but for the most part, if people really want the apps they end up sideloading them, not downloading them from BlackBerry World. It's cool that option is there but as we see every time we post an article on sideloading, folks are getting tired of even having to do that as a means of getting app on their device.

I think the larger problem is that a lot of the developers that just toss out an Android port don't really bother testing very much to see how well it works. Likely a lot of them don't even have a device...

So if you are posting crap that doesn't really work, or barely works and it's easy to encounter, it's a developer laziness problem...

At least BlackBerry isn't paying $100K to have apps done for them like MS has for theirs. That's what it has to come down to though. The $10K that BlackBerry was giving away before needs to continue to be promoted and maybe even increased.

I don't mind the sideloading, but my dad won't want to do it (and that'll be the mentality for most users). Also, I have found myself replacing my sideloads with native apps that serve the same function. So yeah, native is better.

Having said that, just like Songza proved, if the demand is there, then they will code natively eventually. This post isn't about sideloading though, it's about apps in BBWorld. I'm thinking that BlackBerry should probably subsidize apps to be ported over (and have them be free for a time) to prove devs that there is a demand.

Posted via CB10

And don't forget about the flood of holier than thou sideload critics. I garuantee that most of them have pirated music on their I pods and movies on their computers.

I think Heins words before bb10 was launched applies here when he stated that the new BlackBerry 10 wasn't going to be for everyone.
I love the fact that on my smartphone I can sideload, load leaked osses, organize my folders as I want and do everything bb10 alows you to do without going through painful iTunes or painful android UI.
A friend said to me "if you buy an iPhone you have to adapt to it, it doesnt adapt to you...". I know that's true and I still don't get why people who doesn't have macs buy iphones... well, I think is not for everyone also...

Posted via CB10

I would also like to see Blackberry sell Q10 and Z10 directly from unlocked at no contract pricing. That way I don't have to wait on my carrier and get the product directly from the source.

Posted via CB10

You can buy the phone sim free here in the UK. Places like Carphone Warehouse and Phones 4 U do sell them. But carriers do offer incentives, such as the phone free, if you sign up for them.

But I agree it would be nice to see dedicated BlackBerry sellers.

Posted via CB10

Ok,mods.. we need a "report post" function for comments in CB10.

These completely off topic comments need to be pulled.

From the ZED via CB10.. booyah!

Yes. His comments are so off topic. Seriously, the guy either can't read or doesn't know how to work a computer.

Without the Android Player the PlayBook with have been a huge failure.... oh wait it was a failure.

That said, I don't think even die hard BB fans would have found much use out of the PlayBook without sideloading a few key apps. Even now my biggest reason for not trying ever leaked BB10 OS is that I don't want to re-install side loaded apps and loose their settings.

For now I think BB has to have the "Player", in a few years maybe they will not.

Going HTML5 way can solve this problem to some extent. But you still need to follow UI guidelines to delight users with consistent native interface. For example, for BB10, to create good UX, devs should use bbui.js which brings native look and feel.

Posted via CB10

At least the android player gives us an option (to sideload) if the devs are lax with getting a ported or native app onto BlackBerry.

That said, the android experience will be greatly enhanced when BlackBerry gets the runtime up to jelly bean - I think a lot of complaints may become moot (re the laggy interface etc).

It really comes down to choice. Without android most of the big names are catered for (app wise); with android on board there is even more...

Posted via CB10 on my BlackBerry Q10

I agree I think it will be better for us with JB but I wish android apps were branded as such... like how the made for BlackBerry apps have the logo on the bottom right. Why not add the same android logo for ports?

Also when an app changes from a port to native they could always reset the ratings since the app is basically a "new release " along with a disclaimer saying the app has gone native.

For the app side loading... what if they had a time frame that they'd operate within? any sideloaded app would only work for X number of days before it stopped working (needing a new side load or hopefully an install from BBW)

I also wish the apps were tested better and BlackBerry was more strict on what they let in.

Posted via CB10

It's only the "Built for BlackBerry" apps that have the logo (and only ones using the Cascades UI) - Core Native and Android Apps need to be designated in BlackBerry World.

Posted from the tap-dancing mouse :rotfl:

I like the initial idea. It solves the whole bad rap problem, allows users to pick out apps that might not work well form the ones that are native and doesn't destroy developers download numbers. As far as side loading goes I think that it would best to leave that the same as it would just make people upset if they had to reload things over and over again.

The open versus closed eco-system for apps is a debate I'm going to avoid. I think that there are benefits and problems to both and I'm fine with either so long as BB protects its ecosystem from malware.

Hey all, I am a Windows Phone user (and I still love it) but I have always had respect for BB. I am seriously thinking about getting a Q10 on ATT but I am hesitant as I have switched to the platform with the least amount of apps too many time already.

So my questions is....
How is the app store in comparison to WP app store?
Can you install any Android app onto a BB10 device?
And finally, where should I start to familiarize myself with the platform? (any forum threads or posts I should read)

As of now, with the latest side loading method, virtually any app on Android will work. The experience will get better once BlackBerry releases 10.2 w/ Jellybean runtime. You might wanna head over to the BlackBerry 10 Hub section in the CB forums for a start..

Posted via CB10

Never owned a Windows Phone but my understanding is that BlackBerry 10 has more total apps and about the same amount for the big name apps.

*Most* Android 2.3.3 apps work at least at a basic level. Some work perfectly. On some, everything works but it is slower and the UI is not quite consistent with native apps. Some get the job done but are missing some features. Then there are some that just don't work at all. Soon, with BlackBerry 10.2, we'll have Jelly Bean support which means that *most* Android 4.2 apps will be supported. That will both raise the quality of the apps and the amount that can be sideloaded.

well considering the WP store only has like 70k more apps i dont think you'll notice that much of a difference.

Easy money when make apps port that why they do not make native z10 always over heating, not know why......mybe I need look to iphone 5 next... I love my z10 but dissapointed with it at same time......

Posted via CB10

Often they don't make native apps because it's expensive. And the platform isn't as popular as others, meaning less potential profit.

Well as mentioned in the article, some android ports work better than others.

Take Waze as an example, it has its own menu and navigation system that is consistent between iOS and Android. So getting around inside that app feels fine on BB10.

As mentioned in the comments some Android ports were very lazy and untested, sone apps you get stuck inside of and have to either swipe down and choose back or perform another back gestgure. This sort of experience annoys us end users.

I would be happy with Android ports provided they perform well, have been tested by the developer and if needed modified to make the navigation easier with additional buttons so we as users don't get stuck inside the app.

But in all fairness I'm all for lower review scores for an app that users feel could be better if it were native. It's feedback to the developer and if there is enough downloads it may spur them on to make a native app.

Posted via CB10

The only problem I see with the Android porting is that some are a display of laziness. They don't bother optimizing it for the BB10. But when they take the time to optimize and make it run as smooth as possible and as close as to BlackBerry guidelines then it's great. (I believe you can hide apps within Cascades)
But the runtime as of now creates a second gui and lag that the consumer has to deal with.

If I can add, at the end of the day I did buy a BlackBerry not an Android, I like the peek/ flow, it works way better than the Android interface.
I like the business model where they port over then transition into native. If they can't start native.

I'm still kind of on the fence about the Android Runtime. I've been pretty vocal about my dislike of the idea, not because of it being an "admission of Defeat" (which I used to think), but because it's one place on BlackBerry 10 where quality takes a back seat to quantity. Yes, I know BlackBerry needed the numbers at the BlackBerry 10 launch, but in this case, in think I may have preferred to have a smaller, higher quality app store. I remember when the first BlackBerry Z10 reviews were released, there was a huge focus on the quality of Android apps and how they were lacking in it. I just wished that BlackBerry World would be filled with high quality apps, and not necessarily the most sought after ones. That way the BlackBerry 10 experience would be completely unified. Right now, it feels a bit fragmented.

I have my own share of complaints against the Android Runtime, but for nowI hope that the update to Android 4.2 will greatly aid in the quality of apps being ported over.

Posted via CB10

I agree with your points.
The one thing people are missing though is this:
Google could make architectural changes to Android/the Dalvik VM which prevent Android Apps running on BB10.

Posted from the tap-dancing mouse :rotfl:

I dnt mind the ported apps if they work well. I dnt leave terrible review either. But I make it known that if it was native I would have kept the app and used it more often.

Posted via CB10

The solution is relatively straightforward: any Android app in BBWorld has it's reviews, and when the native bb10 version of the app is released, the reviews posted while the Android version was "the" version are deprecated to "Previous version reviews" and the previous version could have a note on it: "The reviews prior to this point are for the Android port, and do not necessarily reflect the performance or usability of the current native BB10 version.".

That message should stay on the top of the screen as the user scrolls through the old reviews so they know that what they're reading may not be pertinent to the current version.

BlackBerry is really the only platform that does this: even on iOS, when an iPhone app gets an iPad optimized version, they're considered separate versions, so the iPad version would have all its own reviews.

For me, honestly I tend to avoid android ports, the permissions are the main reason as there's no granularity like a native app would have.

Not saying apps are poaching your data, but I'm not about to enable stuff like camera etc for apps that would never have a logical need.

Posted via CB10

Meantime Google is not taking this lying down. They are moving much from Android into Google Services - an area BB will have no access to at all. Will be interesting to see what the future holds.

I tried to side load an app like instagram and Netflix almost went nuts, i will wait for this suppose private company going to port all the Google apps ! Hope.

Posted via CB10

The Android sideloaded apps for us do not work very well. Some do not work at all... some do. Hopefully the developers will create native apps for those of us who ask for them. I myself have taken some time to email those developers. If you have the time let them know.

Posted via CB10

I have no issues with Android ports so far, but I do wish more developers went native. I'm glad that some developers have tested the waters but porting their Android apps, and happy to see some are starting to switch to a native build afterwards. What gets me is the developers who don't even try the platform. There have been several apps that have been side loaded and work (for the most part) just fine, yet they haven't officially made the port available in BlackBerry World. If Netflix, Square, and Instagram could see that it wouldn't take much effort to bring their apps over, then possibly native apps would follow. It amazes me the blinders these companies seem to wear.

I don't care that there is an Android player on QNX. I just want BB to give us user a way to distinguish between Android and Native apps in a clear easy way. Native app tend to be a better experience on QNX and I for one want the best experience that is available to me. How about a kill switch for the Android player? That would be ideal for me.

If BlackBerry added an "Android" icon to every ported app in a way similar to the way "Built for BlackBerry" apps are denoted in App World, I think it'd benefit users greatly.

Posted via CB10

Developer's know by now that we prefer native over android ports.

as it is, I prefer to look for native alternatives than droid ports. Anyways, from my yesterday OS update, android player seems to be better.

Now, if it would be possible to sideload without a PC (similar to BlackBerry world), I would consider sideloading. Any chance in near future?

Posted via CB10

I think generally most people can't be bothered with the side loading process and that's the truth.. I do it, but my mum would never even try with her q10, and it's fair enough really.

If there is an official way to easily get all the Android apps on our bbs, then for the future success and popularity.. market share.. of bb, they definitely need to go ahead with it.

Then nobody can say BlackBerry doesn't have this app and this app and bla bla.. well guess what loser? It does now! BlackBerry can say..

Posted via CB10

The best investment BlackBerry can make is paying for apps. Use a couple million dollars and flood BlackBerry World with big name apps. the Internet will roar and the isheep will lose their ammo.

Posted via CB10

Can somebody please tell me what's the name of that widget that z10 in the pictures has. Looks like a front-panel-of-a-android-phone thingy... whatever you guys get it... hook me up!

Posted via CB10

Solve the app "crisis" by releasing BBOS 10.2 already! Like seriously I would be super satisfied. Stay in the loop BlackBerry

Posted via CB10

Still believe that a lot of us are going to turn our BB10 phones into Android phones with a HUB..

Running 10.2 (Android 2.3.3) I have more Android apps than BB10. I'm pretty sure once the full 10.2 is released/leaked with Android 4.2.2 I'll have even more Android apps and as in the picture end up using a launcher...

Dev side of it... well why would I put time into rewriting my app when its going to run just fine in 10.2 (if it doesn't already) ... Right now the only advantage in writing a pure BB10 app is getting Made for BlackBerry? symbol. I could be missing something. Your Android app can be in 2 stores... pure BB10 only in 1.

That might come off as me being excited... I'm not..

Using an Android launcher on my Z10? I've never thought of it until I see Simon's clip; pretty sick I must say. And yes, it does look like turning our BB10 phones into Android phones with a HUB - people may even mistakenly take the Z10 for HTC One in a glance.

As far as I'm concerned it comes down to devs not being confident in their product. The developer industry is no different than any other. If you know you have a quality product, people will buy/download it. The blackberry user base is large enough and will continue to grow. If your product is a piece of crap, like 40% of the ones on the android platform, then why take the time and effort to make a native one. You know it's crap so there is no point in wasting your time. Think Field of Dreams people! If you build it, they will come. Just build it well!

Posted via CB10

I'm grateful for the Android compatability. Sure, some of the ones through app world are slow, but being able to sideload has given me the majority of my most-used apps.

People should stop focusing on apps and just grow up. Use native apps, make phone calls, send messages. If everything bb10 does now, including the current native app lineup, is not enough for you, than you need to invest in a shrink. Get outdoors and smell some roses. Do things in real life. A BlackBerry is a tool to get things done, not a way of life or a day care center for some of you more immature members .

Posted via CB10

Frankly, if it wasn't for all the fuss about BB10 and Instagram, I wouldn't have ever tried it. Same with Candy Crush. They would have remained in BB World, unnoticed. I like and use both these apps. For those of us that have been on legacy devices for the last few years, the Android runtime is a good introduction to apps

Posted via CB10 on my Z10 featuring BBM Channel C0002FE04

Personally, I have no issues with ported apps, as if that's the only way we can get certain apps, fine by me. BlackBerry has been plagued for quite some time by the lack of apps and in some cases, its' the lack of an updated version of an existing BlackBerry app. There are app developers who made apps for OS5/6/7 that do not plan to roll out a version for BB10 so in many cases, sideloading the Android version of the app is the only option. In some cases, the BB10 version of an app is actually worse than the prior versions (For example, the Fly Delta app on BB10. While the new version added the ability to book flights, it no longer has the ability for you to log onto the app, which was handy for doing online check-in as well as making changes to a booking (like changing ones' seat assignments). Then again, with the BB10 browser, one has full access to the site as opposed to a pared down version on the older BB browsers.

Not every developer is looking to take the time to rewrite their app so that it is a native app, especially if it is a free app. There are some app developers that won't even do an Android version of their iOS apps even though they would have an additional revenue stream as a result of their paid apps being on another platform. If they won't do an Android version of their app, there is no way they'll do a BlackBerry or Windows Phone version.

The Android Player is a quick and dirty way for developers to dip their big toe into the BB10 ecosystem and see if it's worth the time and money to go native with their apps. On the downside, lazy developers will simply port their Android apps for BB10 because they can and don't have to worry about ever having to go native even though some users prefer native over ported.

I've said this before in the forums but sometime I think people just assume that an app sucks because it's a port. If they bothered to read the Play reviews they would realize that some apps even suck on android to start with...

Posted via CB10

Its disturbing people just plainly assume android ports are bad. Of course native app will perform better, but hey how many BB10 users are there all around? Why would a dev want to develop a native version? BBRY should show them some good number of users then we can demand for a native app. Be grateful there is at least a port which works, and have some patience once the user base grows there will be a native app.

Cascades will get boring after some time. Imagine every single app looking the same and behaving the same way, its good in a way, but how can the developer differentiate the app from others? The tab colors can't even be changed? Can the action bar color be changed? Cascades is looking good right now. But it will get bored after some time. There is not much way to customize the cascades look and feel. Native apps are great but not every app has to be a cascades style'd app.

One thing people forget is many Android apps suck on Android, so they won't be any better on BB10. Podant comes to mind).

At this point, I'm not lacking for apps. Yeah, many I use are Android converted to bar, but better than no app at all.

I would like a decent opensignal app. The converted one needs to access other google code so it basically doesn't do much. Cellumap is my preferred open source signal reception app, but they don't have it for BB10.

From my experience it seems like bbworld is setup to actually get rid of bad reviews to help developers. In my opinion I think this is a bad idea and I will explain why.

I've downloaded some pretty terrible apps and left what I thought was a fair and honest review to help other people navigate through the bad stuff and hopefully find the good apps. But lo and behold when going back later I've noticed that my reviews are no longer there. I think as soon as you completely delete an app from your phone your review dissapears.

I'm pretty sure that blackberry wants to say look we have a million apps and to do that they let a lot of really bad ones through. This wouldn't be so bad If I didn't have to download them all to find the few good ones.

In my opinion they need to fix the whole review rating system because it doesn't work now for bad apps. Perhaps if a developer makes a lot of changes to a bad app there should be some way to delete all the bad reviews and start fresh but I don't think it is fair or helpful to other users to simply delete them when I uninstall the app.

Posted via CB10

I agree, also there are some developers who design apps that act or look like an app from established corporations but I don't believe the have the rights to market it in this manner, let alone use their logos and branding. Why isn't BlackBerry cracking down on this type of development? If it's because they wouldn't attract developers if they placed controls against IP infringements then I'm not willing to support that.

Posted via CB10

Android apps create unmanageable sub folders and are not compatible with certain file management apps. If there was native app code it would integrate much better. This is why I choose my side loads carefully.

Posted via CB10

If they can improve on the android app player I think this is the best approach for a platform viewed as too small, Possibly we need better specs then the Z10. Android sucked back in gingerbread and the specs of the time. With jelllybean and top tier specs like that of the nexus, htc one etc. Its butter smooth.

If the experience in the android app player feels native regarding lagging. And maybe figure out a way to implement native gestures to go back. Then what can people really complain about. OMG the fonts are different and buttons a different shape, who cares. Its the performance that matters.

Skype has been buggy and crashed every time since day 1 all that time waiting for a chappy buggy port, it's wen thry keep crashing ur devices it's an issue, eBay is the same it keeps asking for it to be forced to close when u first set it up a d them it's fine again

Posted via CB10

i'm hoping that all blackberry consumers / fanantics can come together and push the developer to work with the native apps.

Earth, for that to happen we need 1 million people to bombard said devs sites. Like the netflix thing we did but for that only 834 people posted on their fb that we wanted a native app. Thats not enough people to get their attention. One million people all posting within a four hour time frame would most certainly get their attention.

Posted via CB10

I am a developer, have apps for old/new BB devices, Android and iPhone. I asked BB few times for BB 10 device so I can develop / test my apps but no response, so I end up porting my Android apps as is, it's shame I know but I cannot afford $500 for this. I am sure many other devs are in my position.