BlackBerry 10 breaks 100k app barrier with help from Android ports

BlackBerry 10 users now have a choice of more than 100,000 apps - which includes Android apps ported to the platform. But do users really care about the difference between ports and apps built specifically for the platform?
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

BlackBerry 10 now has more than 100,000 apps in its BlackBerry World catalogue, including ports from Android.

The company made the announcement on Wednesday, confirming that it had added more than 30,000 apps to the platform since it launched on 30 January.

"Top brands and application providers are joining us every day and are seeing the benefits of being early supporters of the new platform. We constantly hear from developers that the BlackBerry 10 tools are easy to build with and that we provide opportunities for app differentiation that they do not see on other platforms," Martyn Mallick, VP of global alliances at BlackBerry, said in a statement.

Among the headline apps already available on BlackBerry 10 are Amazon's Kindle app, OpenTable and The Wall Street Journal, with other big names such as CNN, The Daily Show Headlines, eBay, eMusic, Maxim, MLB at Bat, MTV News, Pageonce, PGA, Rdio, Skype, Soundhound and Viber to be made available in "the coming weeks".

One of the challenges for BlackBerry's recently launched platform is convincing potential buyers that it has the apps they want. It's a challenge that BlackBerry recognised in the run up to the launch of the software, and embraced by trying to get as many apps in the catalogue before launch as possible, through means such as 'port-a-thons' and its 10K Built for BlackBerry developer guarantee.

By the time BlackBerry 10 launched, the company had around 70,000 apps in store, although some of these are Android apps that run on the BlackBerry 10 platform with, mostly, minor modifications.

The company chose to make it easy for Android developers to bring their apps to BlackBerry's platform in a bid to quickly bolster the number available in store, but they are unable to integrate into the platform in the same way as native apps built specifically for BlackBerry: Android apps that are ported across to the BlackBerry system may not have exactly the same features on that platform as they do on Android, because they may use of APIs that are not present on BlackBerry 10.

The question of whether the average smartphone user could notice, or care, whether the apps have been built specifically for BlackBerry 10 or not is a more difficult one to assess.

On one hand, users will be happy that the apps they want are gradually making their way across to the platform and unless they have a large collection of Built for BlackBerry apps (a challenge in itself, right now) are unlikely to notice the lack of integration into the core OS.

That said, for apps that have taken advantage of the Cascades design of BlackBerry 10 and been integrated into areas such as the BlackBerry Hub, the experience is more feature rich and easy to navigate than Android ports. Over time, providing BlackBerry can continue to convince developers to build bespoke versions of their apps for the platform, the differences in functionality and appearance will become more obvious.

The bigger question is whether BlackBerry will be able to keep up with supporting new versions of Android as they begin to roll out. The potential problem here lies in the way it implemented Android support: instead of virtualising Android (like Amazon's version) for its devices, it did a port of the Dalvik virtual machine, meaning that if Android makes substantial architectural changes, BlackBerry would have to do substantial work to ensure the ported apps are still compatible.

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