About a year ago Simon Crosby (then Citrix CTO) and I talked to the folks at Blue Stacks about the concept of virtual-izing Android apps on Windows . At first mention of it, more than a few people look at you kind of funny. But five minutes into the conversation the light bulbs start going off about the possibilities. What hit me was the fact that the cool Android apps are real apps that, for the most part, take advantage of the local processing platform including graphics acceleration and object storage. The counterparts to many of these apps on a Windows PC are usually web apps that are also accessible from any device. The web apps have great reach and in general enable fuller access to certain parts of applications. The Android app design center (and mobile app generically) is much more focused on the heavily used portion of the app. This is largely due to screen real estate and the touch versus keyboard and mouse input. Navigation to what you need or want to do is heavily streamlined resulting in a simply cleaner day to day experience.
Ok so why bother with this on a Windows laptop or tablet? An observation I had about two years or so ago around the activity of enterprise developers was the first thing that got to me. I’m referring here to the millions of people that work for businesses of all sizes and develop in house applications. The best endpoint developers at the largest companies were spending the bulk of their time getting their mobile app chops together. The tooling was kind of shaky for large team development but the best code jockeys were starting to write apps first for mobile deployment while keeping a web app hanging around for non-native platforms. What I found curious was the large number of developers targeting Android versus IOS. I expected a landslide in favor of IOS but it wasn’t happening that way. The enterprise shops were doing one of two things:
· Do native Android and IOS and then web apps for everything else (I’m overloading .NET front ends as web apps here and ASP.NET is very common)
· Do native Android and web apps for everything else
One can argue and speculate for the reasons about IOS not having the landslide but from personal experience (as an executive working at Citrix) I can tell you that Apple in general doesn’t care about enterprise developers. They won’t make their money there so why bother and enterprise developer support is expensive and certainly not sexy. Well OK is that enough to make the developers swing to Google. Google might care about enterprises since they want to sell and office suite to them but again in general it is not in their DNA through the marrow. If developers made that choice based on the vendor caring about them they would be on WP7 or Blackberry. The enterprise guys and gals like deployment platform diversity. Iphone has lots of options right? You can get the blue one or the white one plus a couple of other cosmetics here and there. Suppose you want a bigger screen ? a brighter screen? a smaller screen? Foldout key board? Something with superior battery life ? waterproof ? better speakerphone ? some security widget? A cheaper device ? Well then you go elsewhere and the elsewhere is largely an Android device. Finally, the enterprise guys say the browser for iPhone and iPad is darn good. In fact its good enough to handle whatever they would write for the PC and Mac.
Alright so the browser on Android has to get good enough at some point (hey HTML5 will fix everything) so why write native apps? Well native apps are cool and learning to leverage a platform is cool and developers like to be the coolest developers. It happened with PC. I was one of hotshots sent to code PC assembler while my co-workers slaved away on mainframe and minicomputer COBOL. We were the cool guys who stayed up all night cranked out thousands of lines of code a day. What we did was harder. We got the pay raises. We spoke in a different language. We moved to C and C++ and built the first PC client server apps right on OS metal with nothing but a network transport to help us out. How does this translate today? The best developers will want to get the most out of the platform and will go as native as necessary to do so. History has shown this and will repeat itself. Reach is equally important but it lacks the emotion and passion of watching your code making the platform dance.
OK back the title entry: Android on Windows. As a developer if I can spend all my time working on the thing I have passion for and then use another technology to get more reach then I’m all over that. I’m especially all over it if I don’t need to sacrifice the experience I’m targeting as use case #1 in order to get reach. That is, layered frameworks to enable multi-platform deployment can be OK but separate the hotshot developer from the platform . Here lies the allure of Blue Stacks for me. That hotshot can now take her Android code and have it run on the PC laptop or tablet with no changes and delivering the same streamlined experience she built for the mobile platform. Sure she will have to maintain a web app for everything else but now all the PC users can get her latest and greatest whenever she moves the mobile application ahead.
The allure (for me) was for the enterprise developer. However upon release of the pre-alpha it seems like many people just want it for all their Android apps so I was wrong but in a good way! All developers then! So yeah “really” squared. I’m using the Android LinkedIn app on my laptop. I like the single pane without all of the extras I would use to “manage” my LinkedIn. It is like a little news feed with laser sharp access to the important stuff. Blue Stacks went live in pre-Alpha last week. In that week over <a nice number with lots of zeros> users downloaded the Android app player and are kicking the tires and then some. I like to be wrong like that! It gets even more interesting with the Windows8 Metro user interface where the Android apps will just take their assigned places on the canvas of the display with all the other apps (I have seen this working since I’m an investor). Now there is a puck for Blue Stacks to skate towards.
We invested in Blue Stacks in March 2011 and are excited to see the software getting out to end users in large numbers. New funding was announced this week including Citrix, AMD, and a player to be named later. I especially welcome the new investors as they will help the company in driving the agenda forward not just via their investment in dollars but in real business initiative.
The company is http://www.bluestacks.com
Follow me @frankartale