BlackBerry increases Android app support

Some Android apps will run directly on BlackBerry phones starting next year

BlackBerry is making it easier for Android applications to run on its latest smartphones.

A recent upgrade to its developer tools has reduced the amount of work required to get an Android app working on the BlackBerry 10 operating system, and changes coming in early 2014 will allow some Android apps to run directly without any changes.

BlackBerry 10 is based on a real-time operating system called QNX but has had a level of compatibility with Android since it was launched earlier this year. A "runtime" on the phones provides an environment in which Android apps can run, but not all Android features are supported.

The latest version, 10.2.1, was introduced in early November and added support for Android Jellybean 4.2.2, Bluetooth, maps through Open Street Map, sharing of content with other applications in the phone, and the spell checker.

As long as the Android features that a given app needs are supported in BlackBerry's Android runtime, the app needs minimal repackaging to run on BlackBerry smartphones.

It's about to get even easier.

Early next year, BlackBerry will push a software update to users that will bring the ability to directly run ".apk" Android packages on phones, with no repackaging, as long as features required by the apps are supported. That should make it easier for companies to offer Android applications to BlackBerry users.

On Dec. 4, the company will run a series of webcasts specifically aimed at Android developers. The "BlackBerry Jam Direct Android Virtual Conference" will include speeches from BlackBerry engineers and third-party software developers.

"This event is designed to help you understand how the BlackBerry Runtime for Android apps 10.2.1 release supports your development efforts and helps you get your apps in front of BlackBerry users faster," the company says on a website.

BlackBerry has attracted 130,000 apps to its BlackBerry 10 platform, but the company's new phones haven't managed to grab the attention of many users.

BlackBerry had a 2.8 percent share of the global smartphone market in the third quarter of 2013, according to data from IDC. That puts it behind Windows Mobile at 3.1 percent, Apple's iOS at 16.6 percent and Android at 69.2 percent.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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