Releasing Android apps for BlackBerry: The how and the why

Read about four ways to convert your Android app to run on BlackBerry. Also, find out what factors may affect your decision about which option to choose.

The Android ecosystem includes dozens of places to release your Android apps, but there's one outlier that you may have missed -- BlackBerry. Many developers overlook this market because RIM doesn't sell Android devices. RIM does, however, have a system to convert and run Android apps on BlackBerry devices.

For Android developers with an existing app (and no immediate plans to write a native BlackBerry app), converting the app to run on BlackBerry is a great way to get more market share. There are various ways to do this that take varying degrees of effort.

Please note that these converted apps currently only run on the PlayBook. The upcoming BlackBerry 10 should also support the Android runtime, but there appear to be no plans to support this feature on existing BlackBerry handsets (thank you to reader sarsipius for mentioning this).

The done-for-you option (Handster)

It appears that RIM has, in its continuing drive to get more apps into BlackBerry App World, contracted to get apps in bulk.

I was contacted fairly recently by Handster, with a request to allow them to convert all of my apps in its store into BlackBerry apps. The Handster folks told me their team had access to special tools to do the conversion (although I'm not sure if these differ from the tools that I describe below).

While they were polite and the zero-effort strategy seems nice, I declined. I want full control over my apps (including releasing updates), and I wouldn't get that in this case. Releasing fixes and updates quickly is important to my strategy, because problems with an app can lead to bad reviews.

All the same, this is the easiest option to get your app into the BlackBerry market. If you're interested, you should probably start by putting your apps into the Handster market.

The web-based almost automatic option

RIM has a web tool that allows you to convert and sign your app directly in your browser. Note that the conversion isn't entirely done on their servers -- the web tool is actually running tools on your computer! You may have to get your machine properly set up before this will work.

This option is relatively straightforward for developers who are casually interested in BlackBerry. You still need to handle the key signing (it's different than for Android) and other matters, but you'll be in control of the release of your apps.

The Eclipse plug-in option

I was comfortable doing the conversions because I had already set up my development environment to use the BlackBerry Eclipse plug-in. It did take a few hours to get set up and going, but it can be handy to have the ability to use your device in the development cycle.

Note that you do need to add the "BlackBerry Nature" to your project. You may want to create a separate fork of your app to play with, just in case there are any small changes to your app's behavior. They claim that there shouldn't be any such changes.

If you're serious about investigating BlackBerry, this is probably the best option.

The command line option

You may be questioning the benefits of this option if you're not a hard-core command line user. Yes, this option takes a bit more work. The benefit is I created a set of scripts that I can use to quickly convert my existing apps to BlackBerry, without doing anything in Eclipse. So, I can release a batch of app updates, and then run the entire set through my scripts and create a set of BlackBerry updates.

Using the command line tools is the most powerful option, and might be a good option if you have a lot of apps to release, or if you work in a highly automated build environment.

Balancing control and ease of implementation

For all of these options except for the Handster conversion option, you control the distribution of your apps. I suggest retaining control, particularly if you update your apps often or are taking an active role in building a brand.

Other than that, the factors that may affect your decision probably involve how much effort it takes to release one app (your first) and how much ongoing effort it takes to release app updates to BlackBerry. The number of apps you have to release may affect which option will take the least effort.

Whichever option you choose, good luck getting your apps converted and released to BlackBerry App World!