BlueStacks puts Android apps on Windows

A start-up is betting that consumers and businesses will miss their smartphone apps when using Windows and will pay to bridge the gap.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
BlueStacks graphic

If you miss your Android apps when using your PC, a start-up called BlueStacks says it has the answer.

Today, the company announced first-round funding of $7.6 million from Ignition Ventures, Radar Partners, Helion Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, and Andreessen Horowitz for its virtualization technology that provides a foundation for Google's mobile operating system atop Windows. It's got partnerships with Citrix for distribution to interested businesses and with assorted as-yet unnamed PC makers for consumers.

"The idea is very simple," said Chief Executive and co-founder Rosen Sharma, who previously was McAfee's chief technology officer. It started when the 6-year-old daughter of another company co-founder was using Android apps on his smartphone. "She went to a Netbook, and she wanted the same apps on it," Sharma said. But it wasn't possible at the time.

"The number of people who want something like that is very, very large--both consumer and enterprise," Sharma said.

Consumers could be interested in having a Windows version of their LinkedIn app for social and work connections, their sports app for staying on top of the latest game results, or Pulse app for reading news, Sharma said. And businesses are interested in extending the reach of mobile apps they've created for their employees.

"A lot of people are doing their own apps" inside the company, Sharma said. "The GM dealership app is an Android app. People who were doing BlackBerry apps earlier are doing Android apps now."

The company, incorporated in 2008, plans to release a free beta version of its software for people to download in June or July. It hasn't yet set pricing for the final version, which is due to ship in the fourth quarter. Partnerships with PC makers should be announced starting next week, the company said.

Once people install the software, running an Android app is easy, Sharma said. "From the user experience, it looks just like they're using an app," he said.

Indeed, my CNET colleague Seth Rosenblatt found using Android apps on Windows with BlueStacks a seamless and effortless process.

BlueStacks uses Amazon.com's Android marketplace to distribute apps because Google restricts its Android Market to specific ARM-based devices.

User interface issues are one complication. Smartphone apps are designed for a touch-screen interface and sometimes for a multitouch interface, so some things won't work easily with a mouse and keyboard. Sharma brushed the worry aside, though.

"We are seeing a lot of touch devices. In two years, a standard laptop will have a touch screen," he said. In addition, trackpads on new laptops support multitouch gestures such as pinching and zooming, he said.

"That leaves very few apps that require absolute touch or multitouch, like games," Sharma said. "The coverage you get is pretty large."

There are some caveats. Android today runs on the variety of ARM processors that are used in smartphones and tablets, but Windows machines--for now at least--use x86 chips from Intel or Advanced Micro Devices. BlueStacks therefore runs its own build of the OS from the open-source Android project.

The kind of high-powered apps you could run in Android include Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop. BlueStacks

Another processor complication is that some Android programs--the Firefox and Opera browsers, for example--use the Native Developer Kit that Google provides for software makers that want to write software that runs directly on the processor rather than on Android's Java-like software foundation. Those won't run on BlueStacks today.

But they will later.

"Most apps are cross-platform. But any app that uses native ARM code will not run today," Sharma said. "We will enable those apps by December."

Ultimately, BlueStacks expects to bridge the gap the other way, too, letting Windows apps run on Android. That will work only on x86 versions of Android, which currently aren't on the market.

Campbell, Calif.-based BlueStacks has only 20 employees now, and most are in India where expenses are lower, so payroll costs won't drain the bank account quickly. Instead, the company plans to use its VC money to try to spread its software foundation as rapidly as possible.

"Our question is getting distribution," Sharma said. He expects to have 20 million copies distributed through computer makers and 60 million through Citrix's software channel, he said.

"Our goal is by end of 2012 to have a ridiculous-looking distribution number. Then the game changes completely," Sharma said.