Since the introduction of Apple’s iconic App Store, a mobile device’s app ecosystem has come to define its success or failure. After all, without developer support and a healthy flow of useful applications, your smartphone wouldn’t be much more useful than a long range walkie-talkie. It becomes obvious, then, why many smartphone users will go out of their way to load their devices with dozens of apps even if it means stepping outside the bounds of official app store sources. So how exactly does one sideload apps on Blackberry’s redefined platform and what long term effects will this have on the system and the developers who support it?
This somewhat gray area of sideloading apps involves acquiring package files from any number of sources ranging from legitimate third-party vendors to downright shady file-sharing sites. Instructions from N4BB can walk users through the steps of sideloading these packages (which come as .bar files) onto a Blackberry device. While this method of sideloading apps doesn’t require a master’s degree in theoretical physics, it does involve a Windows PC, along with some juggling of the device’s IP address.
In an attempt to bolster its relatively small app selection, Blackberry has taken an interesting approach to their young environment, knowing full well the importance of a thriving ecosystem with active developers. Instead of relying solely on apps developed specifically for their operating system, they’ve included the ability to run Android apps with the “BlackBerry Runtime for Android Applications” feature. This effectively takes the existing app count (recently topping 100,000 as reported by Wired) and adds a generous 800,000. In fact, of the 100,000 apps Blackberry boasts, one in five are actually Android apps. It’s worth noting, though, that mileage may vary when it comes to the stability and general smoothness of those 800,000 Android apps. This can be especially true when converting Android “.apk” files to the Blackberry “.bar” format with the numerous online utilities.
What then does the ability to sideload apps, including those from competing ecosystems, mean for the future of Blackberry? At first glance, this seems like a win-win situation for the suits at RIM. They’re able to clear their biggest hurdle (thriving app environment) with ease and also cater to the folks switching ecosystems who, understandably, want to bring their favorite apps along the way. Upon closer inspection, however, this “freedom” begins to show wrinkles. The most glaring issue lies in the very nature of sideloading; that is, piracy. Unfortunately for developers, they typically don’t see any revenue from apps acquired outside of official sources, so it’s no surprise why they would have second thoughts about developing for platforms prone to app piracy. A recent article at CNET displays this phenomena and one developer’s discovery of their app being sold by an unauthorized source who had repackaged the software for the Blackberry OS.
Whatever the cause for app sideloading — be it insufficiencies in the existing Blackberry World or the innate desire for free stuff — those who use the freedom responsibly can enjoy a richer Blackberry experience, so long as those with more devious intentions don’t ruin it for the developers out there trying to earn an honest dollar.