Research In Motion on Tuesday clarified earlier statements about removing the ability to manually install Android applications on the BlackBerry PlayBook. The company previously said it was closing the loophole, known as side-loading, in the next PlayBook software update. Now it says the option will still be available, but locked down more than before.
The reason RIM first said it would shut down Android side-loading was because Android application privacy was a big problem to developers and the market was a “chaotic cesspool”. Unlike the Apple iTunes App Store, which is generally the only way to get apps on iOS devices, Android users can install apps from sources outside of the Google Play app store. An application’s .apk, or installation file, can be manually installed on most Android devices.
In a blog post, RIM’s VP of developer relations, Alec Saunders, clarified the company’s stance:
“Side-loading on our platform is changing in nature. Side-loading is a developer feature. It exists so that developers can load their apps onto their own devices to test. It’s there so developers can send a beta release to their testing community for review. It is definitely not there for some people to side load a pirated app.”
The idea makes sense but my gut says that Android developers aren’t building apps for the PlayBook because the device isn’t selling well; not because of a piracy fear. Regardless, it’s in RIM’s interest to better control the overall experience of the devices it makes. And if it’s going to allow developers to side-load apps for testing, it will do just that.
Will current PlayBook owners agree with the change? Probably not, since Saunders also said the next PlayBook software release will include “a feature that will encrypt apps so they can only be run by the user who purchased the app.” The real solution? Get enough native PlayBook apps available that users want so they don’t look to other app stores for their needs.