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Porting Android apps to BB10 is quick but not for everyone

Pushing Android applications to BlackBerry 10 is for developers only.

Will you wait for key apps to hit BB10?
Brian Bennett/CNET

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Here at BlackBerry Live 2013, BB10 devices weren't in short supply though vendors hawking compelling consumer apps were few and far in between.

That's a shame too since much of the news from the conference this year centered on new applications and software services coming to the BlackBerry 10 platform. These include the professional music app Moog, Skype videoconferencing, and of course BlackBerry Messenger moving to Android and iOS.

My burning question though is what kind of recourse current and potential BlackBerry users will have if they don't relish waiting around for headliner apps to find a home on BB10. I'm talking about applications such as Netflix, Instagram, and even Amazon Music, services I know many people rely on daily.

Why even consider doing something as crazy as this? Because BlackBerry 10 is actually a pretty slick OS and its app selection is the platform's weakest link. After all, the new hardware, namely the Z10 and Q10 smartphones, has the chops to compete with current superphones.

So just how easy -- or not -- is it to sideload Android apps onto a modern BlackBerry? It turns out that BlackBerry Live is an excellent opportunity to find out.

The developer connection
While roaming the halls at BlackBerry Live I struck up a conversation with two developers, one of whom proudly showcased the Instagram application running on his fiery-red Z10 developer device. He explained that the app was a direct port of the Android software. He also stressed that the entire process takes minutes, but before he could elaborate further he was whisked away by a colleague only to disappear into the crowd.

Luckily I was able to push the issue further when I sat down with Chris Smith, vice president of Handheld Application Platform & Tools for BlackBerry. At first Smith seem puzzled by what I asked and initially thought I was curious about how difficult it would be for developers to wrap up their Android apps and offer them in the BlackBerry World store. Apparently that's an easy process that takes minutes to perform, simply a matter of kicking your BlackBerry 10 handset into dev mode and converting the Android app in question from an APK to a BAR file.

The catch though is that to actually sideload the converted app onto your phone, you need to use official developer tools. Sadly the tool kit is tightly controlled and offered only to registered BlackBerry 10 developers.

The word from the top
In another stroke of luck, I managed to chat with BlackBerry head of developer relations Alec Saunders for further insights. He confirmed that getting an Android application to play nice on BlackBerry 10 is a very quick process, the port usually taking about 5 minutes. That said, he doesn't condone this kind of swashbuckling behavior (my word, not his). Saunders elaborated, saying, "I have mixed feelings about people doing this type of thing. It quickly becomes a licensing issue, especially if you aren't the developer behind the app."

Not surprisingly, Saunders took a swipe at Google, saying, "The ability for Android app [[code]] to be accessed and shared like this really points to a lack of security on Google's part." Well, I suppose that means most mobile users, myself included, will just have to be more patient with BB10, or perhaps give up waiting all together.