No matter how slick the new hardware is or how hard BlackBerry strives to convince us that its new BB10 handsets are the cat's meow, there's still one massive stumbling block -- quality apps. Apparently even the BlackBerry faithful agree and intrepid tweakers have stepped in to fix the situation themselves.
Read on to learn how you can quickly take advantage of free BlackBerry 10 apps that others have kindly ported from Android. Best of all, the entire process takes minutes and loading apps to your Z10 or Q10 just a matter of seconds.
Gather your tools
So here's what you'll need to get started: a BlackBerry 10 smartphone, either the Z10 or the Q10, a Windows or Mac computer with Google's Chrome browser installed, and a Wi-Fi network that both can connect to.
Prepare your BlackBerry
The first step is to flip your BlackBerry 10 phone into developer mode. Within the BlackBerry Hub or any home screen grab the pull-down menu from the top of the display. Click Settings, Security and Privacy, then tap Development Mode. From there switch on Development Mode by hitting the software switch next to "Use Development Mode."
A word of caution here. You will be prompted to choose and enter a Development Mode password before the setting kicks into effect. Make sure to create one that's easy to remember or write it down somewhere.
PlayBook App Manager to the rescue
Now you'll want to fire up your computer's Google Chrome browser and download the main software tool you'll be using. Head over to the Chrome app store, search for an app called the PlayBook App Manager, then download and install it. This works for Chrome on both Macs and PCs, by the way.
Next grab hold of your BlackBerry 10 phone, in my case I used the BlackBerry Z10, and confirm that both it and your computer are linked to the same Wi-Fi network. After this you'll have to find out what the IP address of your BlackBerry is. To be clear, this is not to be confused with the Development Mode IP address -- trust me, both CNET editor/labs guru Joseph Kaminski and I made this mistake initially.
You'll find the correct IP address listed under System Settings, About, then within the Network category. Punch this IP address number into the PlayBook App Manager window provided and click Save. If you get a warning about SSL certificate errors, throw caution to the wind and proceed anyway.
You should now see the correct IP address for your device listed under the "Manage your device" heading. Clicking the number will launch a list of all the applications currently installed on your phone.
Find an app you want
From flying people en masse out to BlackBerry Live in Orlando, Fla., to offering a host of cross-platform dev tools, BlackBerry has recently been pulling out all the stops to get developers jazzed about BB10. As a result numerous Web sites have cropped up that offer catalogs of Android apps converted from native APK files to the BAR extension digestible by BlackBerry 10 gadgets.
I discovered two locations, Androidbars.net and BB10bars.net, through the recommendations of BlackBerry devs in the know, and some quick sleuthing on my own. One of my big pet peeves with BB10 is the lack of a good news aggregator such as Flipboard or Google Currents. That's why I was beside myself with glee when I found the Flipboard BlackBerry port displayed front and center at both sites.
I just downloaded the Flipboard BAR file to a handy PC directory, plus a few more for good measure -- namely Netflix and Google Maps. With my virtual bag stuffed with goodies, I was ready to have some real fun.
Load up your BlackBerry
I had kept the Chrome browser window open with the PlayBook App Manager, but it's a good idea to bookmark it right after you secure a successful BlackBerry/PC connection. The next and final significant step is to drag and drop the BAR app file you downloaded into the list of applications the PlayBook App Manager sees.
After this, the handy software tool began installing the app to my Z10 as indicated by a progress bar in the upper left corner. It's as easy as that, really. You can even watch the app materialize in the phone's app tray as it's installing. Believe me when I say people on the surrounding floors could hear my hoots of joy when I successfully launched Flipboard, complete with smooth magazine-style animations.
This is no panacea
I have to point out that while this hack sounds like a huge win for current and potential BlackBerry users, other parts of my experience say otherwise. The Netflix app I installed was functional but buggy with stutters navigating my library and frequent crashes. Also frustrating was that one version of the Instagram app I loaded refused to sign me in to my account or open at all.
Now I know that I shouldn't be surprised by flaky software, especially when using tinkered code such as this. Still it's always painful when hope soars then slams back to the ground floor of ecosystem reality.