Earlier this week, BlackBerry posted on their dev blog an official note about the Android Runtime update coming to users as part of OS 10.2.1.
There is more to 10.2.1 than updating the runtime from Gingerbread 2.3 to Jelly Bean 4.2.2 -- this is also the update that allows BlackBerry app developers to build headless apps -- a much sought after feature by native BlackBerry app developers and BlackBerry 10 owners alike.
That said, the deeper integration between BlackBerry 10 and Android in 10.2.1 is garnering a massive amount of attention from users, as with this update BlackBerry 10 owners can now install Android .apk files (actual Android apps) directly onto their phone.
With a high percentage of Android apps compatible and working flawlessly on BlackBerry 10.2.1, this update basically means the perceived "app gap" in the BlackBerry ecosystem has been closed, with only a little crack remaining. Looking at the top 50 Android apps in the Google Play store, nearly all of them will work perfectly on BB10, as will tens and literally hundreds of thousands more.
With a big move like this there are a lot of questions to be asked. Luckily, we have answers. And where we didn't have them ourselves, we asked BlackBerry's VP of Developer Relations and BlackBerry Ecosystem Builder, Alec Saunders for some clarification.
Q1. What's the main message here?
A1. Alec told us that the BIG MESSAGE here is that BlackBerry is upping their game for Android support. It means they're comfortable with the performance they are getting out of the 4.2.2 runtime on BlackBerry 10 and the experience Android apps are delivering on the platform to users. It's offering "more choice for more customers because that's what customers have asked us to do."
Q2. What's this mean for BlackBerry World and BlackBerry app developers?
A2. Nothing changes here in terms of BlackBerry's initiatives and effort in supporting native BlackBerry app developers and in growing BlackBerry App World. Alec told us that if anything, BlackBerry World can be viewed as more curated, vetted experience. Apps that appear in BlackBerry World need to be signed (and even Android .apks still need to first be converted to .bar files before being submitted by developers to App World).
Alec strongly delivered to us the message that in "no way are we backing away from native developers" and that "customers want the signature BlackBerry experience". What it boils to down is that while BlackBerry will continue to push hard to build out their BlackBerry 10 app ecosystem and work to foster a thriving BlackBerry 10 app developer community, in the meantime for eager customers who want their apps, they will be able to get them via Android .apks.
Q3. So Google Play / Google Play Services are definitely not coming to BlackBerry 10?
A3. Last weekend the CrackBerry forums went into a frenzy on the rumor that with 10.2.1 we may be seeing official native support for Google Play and other Google Services (Maps, Hangouts, etc.). At our request for statement, BlackBerry did get back to us earlier in the week squashing that rumor. At this time there is no planned support for Google Play on BlackBerry.
Alec reiterated to us that they're following the same basic process here as they did with bringing the Gingerbread Android runtime to BlackBerry 10. The integration is tighter, the performance is better and there is greater compatibility this time around. Android apps that use Bluetooth APIs are supported (support for Bluetooth Low Energy for Android coming in future OS releases), and even though BlackBerry 10 doesn't have native Google Maps, BlackBerry has plumbed through the MapView v1 API via OpenStreetMaps. So Android .apks you install that call out to Google Maps via this API will still work, even though there's no native Google Maps on BlackBerry 10.
Bottom line, as was the case before we're still not seeing any official blessing from Google on any of this - but it doesn't matter. It works. And with with the new runtime should work pretty darn well.
Q4. So what about security?
A4. When it comes to trust and security, the words Android and malware go together like bread and butter, and most IT managers I know still cringe at the word Android, so we asked Alec about this.
"On the topic of trust, first of all I would say you can trust the BlackBerry App World store. Secondly, if you're going to download Android .apk files from other stores, take note that some of those stores are trusted." In this case, the Amazon app store is a good example of a "trusted" store to get Android apps.
As for IT departments that are weary of Android, the good news here is that the management of running apps on BlackBerry 10 doesn't change. You cannot run an .apk file within the work perimeter.
Q5. What are the requirements to get started with installing Android .apk files on my phone?
A5. Pretty straight forward here. You'll need a BlackBerry 10 phone (Z10, Z30, Q10, Q5, etc.) and BlackBerry OS version 10.2.1 or higher.
As of today OS 10.2.1 is being released in beta to developers. We don't have any official release date for carriers to be pushing it down to consumers yet (based on historical rollouts we'd take a guess at early 2014). That said, if you're willing to take a little time to educate yourself, the "leaks" are already rolling out in fast and furious form. Check out our BlackBerry OS page and you'll find you can already grab 10.2.1 for the Q10, Z30 and Z10. Just be sure to read everything carefully and follow all the instructions carefully. If you run into any issues, head to the CrackBerry forums where our kick ass community will help you out.
And look - this is one of those times where I'm (as in CrackBerry Kevin) going to reiterate that I believe installing leaks can be very helpful (not that I've ever said otherwise). The loyal CrackBerry members out there are the best damn beta testers BlackBerry has. And we'll be trying out Android .apks galore. So download like mad, test everything, and post about everything in the forums - whether you're finding great success, issues, etc. Based on history, I'm sure your posts will not go unnoticed.
Q6. Where do I find Android Apps to install on my BlackBerry 10 phone?
A6. CrackBerry of course! The reason we launched CrackBerry.com in 2007 was to help BlackBerry owners get the most out of their device ownership experience. You can count on us to help you discover the best Android app .apks and app stores for your BlackBerry 10 phone. We've already setup a dedicated Android Apps (.APK Files) forum, and we'll be doing a lot of editorial content and tutorials around this as well. Also, expect an update to our award-winning CB10 app soon that will put finding Android .APKs for your BlackBerry 10 phone front and center. In the meantime, hit the related links below to get started.
Given the nature of this type of Android Apps on BlackBerry 10 solution, I'm not sure what sort of mainstream marketing and messaging we'll see BlackBerry put behind it. But for us BlackBerry 10 owners and potential owners, it's an extremely awesome solution that's going to help you load up your BlackBerry 10 phone with apps galore. So spread the word!