Will a shot of Android be enough to save BlackBerry?

BlackBerry is a sick company. Will a dose of Android apps give it a shot at health?
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Believe it or not, it wasn't that long ago that Nokia and BlackBerry were the top two smartphone companies. Indeed, in 2006, in a preemptive move against the NTP patent troll, the Department of Justice asked that BlackBerry's services be kept going even if NTP won their case. Seven years later most of us are just wondering how long the company can stay alive.

Can Android apps save BlackBerry?

BlackBerry hasn't given the ghost up yet. Besides finding a new CEO, BlackBerry is embracing Android apps.

In a technical blog posting, BlackBerry announced that its  "Android Runtime team [is] bringing many new improvements to the runtime, such as support for Jelly Bean 4.2.2, hardware acceleration and performance updates."

Specifically, BlackBerry 10.2.1 — the next release of the BlackBerry operating system — will include the following features:

  • Android Native Support: Android apps that use shared libraries written in native-code, such as C and C++, will now be supported on BlackBerry 10. Support is limited to the recommended Android NDK toolset system headers and application programming interfaces (APIs). Headers and APIs outside this scope may not function correctly.
  • Bluetooth: Android applications using Android Bluetooth APIs will now work on BlackBerry 10. Bluetooth Low Energy for Android is planned to be supported in a future OS release. As a reminder, Bluetooth LE is supported in the BlackBerry 10 Native/Cascades software development kit (SDK).
  • MapView v1: Applications that use MapView from Google Maps v1 API are now supported using OpenStreetMaps. Support for MapView v2 API is being planned for a future release.
  • Share Framework: Android applications that register with the share framework in Android will now also appear as share targets on the BlackBerry 10 share menu.
  • Spellcheck: Android applications that use text input can now leverage support for spell checking and correction, and the ability to add words to the BlackBerry 10 dictionary.

The real news here is support for NDK and 4.2.2. Earlier, BlackBerry couldn't support either one and this made porting modern Android apps to the platform a major headache.

In addition, developers will be able to write headless Android apps. These are apps that run in the background and don't require an open Active Frame to function. This, in turn, means that Android apps on BlackBerry will take up less memory and run faster.

If all goes well, BlackBerry will be able support most, but not all, modern Android programs. With fewer and fewer developers spending their time programming for the declining native Blackberry OS, BlackBerry desperately needs Android apps.

At the same time, Alec Saunders, VP of developer relations, told CrackBerry that BlackBerry is not "backing away from native developers." BlackBerry users will also still need to sideload Android apps. The company told CrackBerry that "There is no planned support for Google Play on BlackBerry."

Maybe BlackBerry would have been better off if they had just embraced Android when it became clear that Android was going to be the most popular mobile operating system in the world. It's too late to cry about that now.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. While it's too late to dump BlackBerry OS for Android, maybe a dose of Android apps is what BlackBerry needs to reclaim the number three mobile operating system spot. BlackBerry may never be a giant again, but with some Android it may at least survive for another decade.

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