I had a chance to talk through the latest Android Runtime changes for developers yesterday with BlackBerry’s head of developer relations, Alec Saunders. Alec was very excited for the SDK that launched late yesterday and the many changes it brings along with the heavily improved Android Runtime. When I asked him to summarize the purpose of OS 10.2.1 he said the focus was on improving compatibility and the overall BlackBerry 10 experience. Most of that comes from the updated Android support with Jelly Bean 4.2.2 and opening up native headers, mapping, Bluetooth (LE coming later), share framework, and more.
One of the most interesting topics we discussed was the drastic improvements and opening up of the Android runtime. Alec told me that BlackBerry is listening to their customers and developers who asked for BlackBerry to open up access to all Android applications on BlackBerry 10. This was all about enabling user choice. I followed up with Alec and asked him why BlackBerry did not just open up the runtime and allow users to install APK’s at launch and he had a very frank response. With OS 10.2.1 they are finally seeing that around 90% of applications work just fine without any changes. This is a huge improvement over the original average of 30-50%. They found that a huge portion of the top requested Android apps work just fine on OS 10.2.1 so they decided to simplify the process of making them available to users.
This led me to asking Alec if they have any planned partnerships with any Android App Marketplaces like Google Play, Amazon, Aptoide, and more and he said that he actually recommends using one since they vet the applications to make sure they are legitimate. He reiterated that BlackBerry World remains the first and premier stop for applications on BlackBerry 10 devices and developers should focus on it. This opening of OTA installation is just to assist the chicken and egg problem of getting top shelf Android apps into BlackBerry World.
I asked Alec if BlackBerry is performing any sort of security checking on Android apps that are installed through the browser and he said currently they are not. On the other hand this change does not change the secure work perimeter for enterprise devices at all so this is not a risk for enterprise data. Just make sure you trust the source of your Android apps and ensure you are installing legitimate ones.
This new update also brings MapView v1 support that BlackBerry is pluming through their own hosted OpenStreetmaps servers. I mentioned to Alec that MapView v1 has been depreciated but he said that most apps that did not work due to Google Maps requirement now do work or no longer crash. He said they are no plans he can share about Google Play Services support required for MapView v2 support that they are working on. I also asked if they had any plans to map Google Play Services to the BlackBerry 10 accounts and sadly he had nothing to share so far.
Last but not least I asked Alec about 10.2.1 finally bringing the long running headless apps required for what BlackBerry used to call “Super Apps.” This feature was pushed off to 10.2.1 due to some compatibility issues and he says these apps are going through a separate approval process. Alec stated that he has been personally approving quite a few of these and that BlackBerry 10.2.1 will finally bring some of the classic headless Super Apps we had on BlackBerry 7. He even mentioned that he missed his old Disco LED app that was always running.
Thats all for now folks. Let us know if you had any follow up questions!