Lenovo has partnered with Bluestacks Android App Player to allow Windows 8 users to run Android apps on its Idea-branded consumer PCs. While this could be seen as innovative by bridging the gap between the two platforms, in the long run it's a bad idea all round.
Here's the deal.
The idea itself is not particularly new. The Android App Player is an emulator that you can load onto Windows, or OS X to allow the system to run Android apps. It's a handy tool that allows people to bridge a gap between two platforms, and possibly carry only once device as opposed to two.
The first problem I have with this set up is that it is taking a system that's running one operating system and fragmenting it into three layers -- Windows 8, the Android emulator, and the Android apps. For power users, juggling between these and keeping everything updated will be a breeze, but for the average user keeping track of everything -- especially when it comes to security updates or sorting out problems -- can quickly become a huge headache.
This argument is the same argument that I have against users running virtual machines on systems. Power users can manage this fine, so can users who have the backing of IT staff, but I've seen regular users -- home and enterprise alike -- steer themselves into the tarpits.
Another problem with pre-installing a product like the Android App Player on a PC is that it gives users the false hope that the system is going to work just like an Android device would. Even the best emulation is still emulation, and it is never perfect.
Android already suffers enough from fragmentation problems without adding emulators into the mix.
Another problem I have with this is that Lenovo is pushing a product that Bluestacks openly claims is a "beta" -- it's right there on the download page -- at its customers. Not only is Lenovo pushing a third-party product at users, that product remains in beta-testing and has yet to be finalized. Color me cynical, but that feels like a recipe for some serious problems to me.
Finally, the Bluestacks Android App Player is not new or specific to Lenovo devices. It's software that anyone can download and install on their Mac or PC. Plenty of power users already use the Android App Player.
What Lenovo is doing feels to me like the company is trying to plaster over the gaps in Microsoft's app store by giving its users access to the far more mature Android app ecosystem. While this is great for power users, this is exactly the sort of thing that can give users the wrong impression as to what Windows 8 and the Android platforms are capable of doing.
Trying to fix the shortcomings of one platform by shoehorning another alongside it is not good for anyone. It's not good for Microsoft because it is highlighting its failings when it comes to creating an app ecosystem. It is not good for Android because it will give users a patchy experience. And it is not good for app developers who may be blamed for problems that are nothing to do with the app itself but instead the way it is being run.
Power users will already be aware of the limitations of emulation, regular users won't. In the hands of power users, it's a valuable resource. In the hands of regular users, it's a recipe for disaster.