One of the shortcuts that BlackBerry (NYSE:BB) has been using to grow its app count for years has been ported Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Android apps. It all started when the company announced that it would support ported Android apps on its PlayBook in 2011.
By embracing Android apps within BlackBerry's platform, the company could make it easier for developers to bring their content over with minimal effort. The new BlackBerry 10 platform currently includes an Android emulator, but the underlying Android version is 2.3 Gingerbread, which was originally released in 2010. That means that even ported Android apps are dated and don't have full access to any of the new features that Google has added in the past few years.
In February, BlackBerry said it would be upgrading its Android runtime to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and subsequently decided to go all the way up to the current 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. The company has now released the first software developer kit, or SDK, that includes support for Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean and is encouraging developers to start testing their apps on the platform.
The update will add a slew of new features to the emulator, including things like hardware acceleration, among others. This is the first real tangible step toward getting Jelly Bean apps on BlackBerry 10, and could help boost BlackBerry's app count further, albeit with ported apps.
BlackBerry's Android strategy is a risky bet. Embracing Android too deeply runs the risk of the entire platform becoming little more than a wrapper for Android apps, but the move serves as a stepping stone for developers. They can quickly port their apps to test the waters, and if all goes swimmingly, they can then spend additional time and resources to go native for better performance. The company's BlackBerry World app store is now up to 120,000 total apps, including native and ported titles.
To BlackBerry's credit, the company is making progress with getting more native content. BlackBerry would prefer all apps to be native, but that's not entirely within its control. Only if a sufficient fraction of apps become native could BlackBerry even consider ditching Android support. How long can BlackBerry piggyback on Google?