As part of it's splashy launch of BlackBerry 10, the company announced Wednesday that it has 70,000 apps in its BlackBerry World app store today, along with 1,000 premium apps from top publishers.
Many BlackBerry Apps Not Native
Not so fast. These apps are not all hat they seem. In fact, a great portion of them are actually ported Android apps.
“40% are wrapped Android applications,” Martyn Mallick, VP of global alliances and business development at BlackBerry said to reporters.
For instance, the Skype app on BlackBerry 10 is actually a port from the Skype app for Android. Skype has built native apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone (Skype is owned by Microsoft) but it was easier for Skype to port its existing Android app before building specifically for BlackBerry.
Android To BlackBerry 10 Port-o-Thons
BlackBerry (formerly Research In Motion) is relying on the port strategy in the short term to help developers get their apps onto the BlackBerry 10 platform fast. It encourages developers to build straight for BlackBerry 10 and the features that the operating system holds, but for now at least, it will basically take an app any way it can get it.
“The only way I can compare it is that it is a soft quality strategy,” said BlackBerry VP of developer relations Alec Saunders to ReadWrite. “If you compare what we do to what Apple does," they make developers conform to all of these iOS guidelines or theywill boot you out of the store. "We are like, 'You know what? If you have a code base, we want if to run on the platform.' '”
Saunders said that BlackBerry will offer developers who build specifically for BlackBerry “tangible marketing benefits,” which will be announced at a BlackBerry Jam Europe conference in Amsterdam next week. The suggestion seems to be that ported apps will not receive the same type of visibility or marketing from BlackBerry in its app store.
“When I say tangible marketing benefits, you are going to do better in our store [with a native BlackBerry app] than if you built for Android,” Saunders said. “The porting strategy is there but increasingly we are going to be pushing people to build for BlackBerry to have the native parts of the BlackBerry experience because we think that experience is better.”
Saunders and the developer outreach team started doing “port-o-thons” in January to get developers “over the hump” in pushing out BlackBerry 10 apps ahead of today’s launch. One such port-a-thon brought nearly 15,000 apps to BlackBerry 10, while another added several thousand more. About 38,000 of the 70,000 apps in the new BlackBerry World app store are ports. As part of the port-a-thons, BlackBerry built a utility that can easily turn Android Apps into BlackBerry apps.
A Sound Short-Term Strategy
In the short term, the port strategy should work for BlackBerry. Developers maynotice that an app is actually an Android app and not a BlackBerry app, but most consumers won't know the difference. As long as it works, right?
As the presence of the ported Skype app shows, this strategy is a decent way for BlackBerry to quickly get top-tier apps to its nascent platform. And if BlackBerry 10 sales start taking off, developers who built directly for the platform could benefit better than they would on iOS or Android - which is a reasonable incentive to follow up quick ports with true, native BlackBerry 10 apps.
Image of BlackBerry z10 by Dan Rowinski.