Research In Motion is planning to restrict consumers and app developers from sideloading Android apps onto its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, according to Alec Saunders, company vice president of developer relations.
“We’re removing sideloading for consumers. Pretty sure we’ve got a solution for devs,” reads a message posted on Saunders’ Twitter feed.
Saunders later referred to Google’s Android Market, which was recently made part of the Google Play store, as a “chaotic cesspool.”
Sideloading is the transfer of data between two local devices. In the mobile world, it means downloading an app from an unofficial app market to a mobile device through an USB port, Bluetooth or via a media card.
The news provoked some consternation among observers because RIM had enabled sideloading capability in BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0, released in February.
Why Sideload Android Apps?
RIM’s PlayBook sales have been generally disappointing, and the company appeared to be trying to save the device by riding the coattails of the burgeoning market for Android apps with the sideloading capability.
“The decision to let consumers sideload Android apps on PlayBooks was strategic,” Maribel Lopez, principal analyst at Lopez Research, told TechNewsWorld.
In February, RIM invited Android devs to repackage their apps for the Playbook. It released the BlackBerry Plug-In for ADT, and the browser-based emulator BlackBerry Packager and BlackBerry software development kit (SDK) for Android apps.
However, devs who ported their Android apps to the BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 had to remove any mention of the word “Android” from the application’s description and from the app itself. They would also have to remove all links to Google’s Android market and get their app signed off by RIM.
Seeing Little Green Men Hurts
RIM’s decision may have been based on perceptions of security and quality present in Google Play, the company’s Android app store.
“Sideloading was an extra benefit RIM offered PlayBook owners; nobody else in the market does that,” Lopez remarked. “There’s a lot of things that could go wrong with that extra benefit, including piracy and malware.”
About 25 percent of Android apps are pirated, Saunders asserted.
Android application tracker site AppBrain says 30 percent of Android apps are of low quality, meaning they are unlikely to be useful.
Further, new Android malware crops up fairly regularly. One of the latest examples is TigerBot, malware that is controlled through SMS messages. This can execute commands ranging from uploading the user’s current location to sending SMS messages to recording phone calls, according to NQ Mobile Security Research Center, which discovered it. It disguises itself as a legitimate app.
Google uses its so-called Bouncer technology to scan apps for malware, though doesn’t vet apps with the same level of scrutiny as Apple, for example, before allowing them into its app store. Further, other Android app stores not controlled by Google sometimes hawk illegal copies of apps or apps containing malware.
Why Sideloading’s Bad
RIM had allowed PlayBook users to sideload Android apps and download Android apps from its official BlackBerry App World app store. This capability “was a selling point to developers because it would be more profitable for them,” Michael Morgan, a senior analyst at ABI Research, told TechNewsWorld.
However, some consumers downloaded apps from unofficial Android stores, “messing up the distribution channel,” Morgan said. This caused devs concern that they might be losing out on some sales, and it sparked concerns within RIM that its app store “wouldn’t look like the clean one it’s supposed to be.”
RIM wants “to make sure they’re not viewed as the new Wild West for Android apps, particularly in the corporate sector,” Morgan said.
Meanwhile, the company had its best quarter yet for apps, with 25,000 being submitted for approval in the last three-month period, Saunders tweeted.
Whether RIM’s changed stance on sideloading can save the BlackBerry PlayBook or will hasten its demise remains to be seen. Still, “Getting rid of sideloading is just going to put RIM on par with what everybody else is doing anyway,” Lopez pointed out.
RIM did not respond to our request for comment for this story.