You might actually want to jump on BlackBerry Appworld. Quickly in fact – if you submit your Android app before February 13 2012, you’ll get a free BlackBerry playbook. Since it takes a day or two to get your account set up (and a bit more to get your app released), you really don’t have much time to lose.
Update April 2012 – Looks like BlackBerry is at it again – submit an app by April 26 and you have a pretty good chance of getting a free ticket to BlackBerry Jam 10 (with spending money):
Update October 2012 – current promotion is the $10k Commitment, where they’ll pay the difference between $1k and $10k if you earn at least that first $1k in the first year. They’re pushing hard to promote their new BlackBerry 10 platform. I haven’t verified that Android apps are eligible for this promotion, so be sure to read the terms and conditions. You have until January 2013 to submit for this challenge.
OK, let’s take a step back, and get to the actual review before I send you off to register. If you’re new here you may also be interested in my other Android app market reviews.
Android Apps on BlackBerry Devices?
Yep, they added the ability to run Android apps on the BlackBerry Playbook with just a small amount of tweaking. That’s good for developers – an entire new market with minimal new work.
There’s a lot of fanfare about their new BlackBerry Tablet 2.0 release, which includes their new Android runtime.
To be honest, I really was attracted first by the free device. It is very helpful to have a test device for specialty market (e.g. Barnes and Noble’s Nook Store and the Amazon Appstore). Buying a new device for markets that may not be profitable for me seems questionable. Having a test device means I can make sure my apps work properly and give an honest attempt to get my apps sold on this market.
What BlackBerry Does Well
BlackBerry users have a reputation for buying high-priced apps, as well as being loyal (and addicted) to their devices. They’re lost a lot of ground to Android and other smart phone platforms lately, but they’re making a play to get back in the game with the new Android runtime.
Just don’t call it Android. RIM has banished every mention of the word Android from the app and the description. They want the technology, but need to keep their brand name separate!
What is good about this market
- While you have to get new signing keys from BlackBerry, they really do get them to you in 1-2 hours as advertised, even at odd hours in the morning.
- They have put a lot of effort into making the process easy – for example, they have an online conversion utility.
- The new runtime will roll out to all BlackBerry Playbook devices already in user’s hands
- RIM does their best to engage developers (online resources, the free tablet, and they hold regular developer conferences)
Challenges to releasing from BlackBerry Appworld
To be honest, I wasn’t very impressed with their release process. It’s better than many, but for a big-name player it was a little disappointing. A few things stood out:
- Lots of licenses to agree with
- BlackBerry doesn’t sell your app – you have to deal with their partners
- You must complete a separate application to sell apps, which takes a few days and requires that you fax or email proof of your business entity (or your personal identity, if not a business).
- The screenshots and promotional images are strange, and have inappropriate dimensions. Time for Photoshop!
- Their emulator isn’t an AVD — you must install VMWare to run it
- You must get import the new signing keys from BlackBerry into their Eclipse plugin (several needlessly tedious steps)
- Their Android runtime has a LOT of limitations (see below)
Additionally, the emulator seemed completely broken. I had to submit my app and hope it was the emulator failing, not the entire Android runtime. I would hope that an actually BlackBerry device wouldn’t run like an early alpha for new technology.
Note that all of these complaints only add up to a few hours of my time. Just don’t be fooled that it’s a 30 minute process!
Converting your Android App to BAR format for BlackBerry
Before you release your app to the BlackBerry Appworld, you need to convert your .apk to their BAR format.
RIM has provided a set of resources to convert your app. There are command line tools, an Eclipse plugin, and even a web-based tool.
A few relevant BlackBerry Playbook specs:
- BlackBerry Tablet is Android 2.3+
- Application icon size: 86 x 86 pixels
- Screen dimensions: 1024 x 600 pixels
A few other differences:
- Just like a few other Android app stores, you can’t link outside of their app store. If you’d rather not create a new linking scheme, just make sure that all links to the Android Market (or anywhere else) are sanitized by removal or otherwise.
- In-app payments must use the approved system from RIM
- Icons INSIDE your app should be larger, “around 86 x 86 pixels”
- BlackBerry doesn’t have menu or back buttons. There are screen swipes that emulate these functions, but
OK, not too bad so far, right? Take a look at this huge set of unsupported APIs and hardware features!
I haven’t seen any other Android app store have this many limitations, but as this is not a true Android device this was somewhat expected.
Nonetheless, if your app doesn’t use any of those features (or you can remove them), you might be able to release your app to the BlackBerry Appworld.
After using the Eclipse plugin, I can say it’s not very difficult but it will probably take you a few hours to set up and get your app converted. You may want to create a copy of your project, because you have to inject the BlackBerry libraries into it.
Get Your Free BlackBerry Playbook
What’s this I’ve been saying about getting a free BlackBerry Playbook? RIM offers a free device to developers when they’re really trying to push their platform, and this latest promotion is for a free Playbook to any developer that gets an app published by February 13, 2012.
If you miss this window, hopefully they’ll do it again soon (they’ve done it in the past, so…)
The promotion announcement:
Ok, so you’ve missed that round. Don’t despair, RIM keeps running promotions. Stay tuned, they’ll make another offer.
Update October 2012 – current promotion is the $10k Commitment, where they’ll pay the difference between $1k and $10k if you earn at least that first $1k in the first year.
What should you do?
If you’re reading this before the deadline for their most recent promotion, I suggest that you sign up and submit your app.
Afterwards? Evaluate if you think your app is a good fit for the BlackBerry market. It isn’t a huge amount of time to convert your app, and BlackBerry users are known to spend money. Hopefully I’ll be able to update this article with a report of impressive sales figures.
Additionally, note that Handster/Opera has a team that is converting Android apps on their market to BlackBerry and submitting those apps directly to RIM. If you don’t want the hassle of converting your free apps, this may be a good option.
You’ll have to decide for yourself if you think your app is a good fit for BlackBerry users.
Hungry for info on more Android app stores? For access to all of my reviews of Android app stores and markets, check out the Android Market Alternatives report. It covers dozens of Android app markets in detail, with recommendations on the top ones to spend your time and effort on.