BlackBerry isn't bashful about its Android app compatibility anymore.
The ability to run Android apps was one of the worst kept secrets of the BlackBerry 10 platform. For most of BlackBerry 10's first year, you had to go through a complicated series of steps to "wrap" an Android app to run on a BlackBerry handset. The 10.2.1 upgrade in late January let BlackBerry's phones run Android apps directly, but BlackBerry kept the ability out of the release notes and initially didn't want to talk about it publicly.
Well, those days are over.
Over at MWC, we chatted with Chris Smith, Blackberry's vice president for its application platform. He said: “You can now go to an Android store as of 10.2.1 and pull down [application files] directly. In terms of an open ecosystem and an app and content story, we've had some challenges with that. We did a great job of bringing content for launch, but the reality is that there's a long tail out there and certain key apps we haven't been able to bring across, and that's held us back in certain markets.”
To demonstrate, he loaded up the Amazon Appstore on a BlackBerry Q10 by clicking on a button on Amazon's web page. Within about two minutes, I had downloaded a game. Smith said that pretty much anything will work that isn't dependent on Google services, like Maps.
"The level of performance and capability of those apps is equivalent to what you would see on a stock Android device," he said.
BlackBerry might seek an even closer or more formal relationship with existing app stores, Smith said.
"We're still thinking about what the right experience is there, but we've definitely opened it up much more to the average consumer," Smith said.
Let's make one thing clear, though: This excludes the Google Play store, or any Google services. BlackBerry isn't Android, and the company isn't seeking the Google certifications needed to legitimately run Google's store and services.
Why BlackBerry needs BB10
So why isn't BlackBerry running with Android, anyway? Smith said BlackBerry needs to maintain its own operating system to ensure the level of corporate security it requires.
"The reality is that security starts at the bottom, in terms of securing the hardware, and really builds in concentric circles on top of that. It's not that there aren't alternatives out there; it's that we have very specific intellectual property, working in the most secure environments in the world, and we have complete confidence in an approach where we have total control," he said.
BlackBerry is designed for business security, not personal privacy, though. When I asked Smith about Blackphone, the encryption-centric Android phone, he said BlackBerry was trying to keep its eyes on the corporate prize.
"Our focus has always been working with our large enterprise customers and others in regulated industries. I think that's going to continue; the audience that the Blackphone is potentially going after is not our primary focus," he said.
With control over the platform, BlackBerry can also focus on plumbing in new features that its core enterprise customers want, Smith said. Expect to hear more this year in terms of optimising battery life, text input, text management, and enterprise intranet apps.
"On the enterprise app side, unlocking all of those assets that enterprises keep behind the firewall ... there's a huge opportunity to unlock that and bring it down to the device," Smith said. Those enterprise apps wouldn't be Android apps; they'd be exclusive to BlackBerry, as they'd use BlackBerry's unique corporate security platform features.
As for outside the enterprise: "Battery life, the best possible input experience, managing text or moving text around ... those are areas where you're going to continue to see innovation coming from us," he said.
For more on MWC 2014, you can review our coverage of the event throughout the week here.