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Is RIM blocking side-loading of apps on the PlayBook or not?

John Cox | April 11, 2012
A casual tweet sparks controversy and confusion over whether BlackBerry PlayBook users will be able to side-load apps apart from RIM's online store. A followup blog post doesn't bring much more clarity.

The Android player was introduced as part of PlayBook OS 2.0, released in February, intended to let PlayBook users download and run apps created for the Android OS. Within a week, RIM claimed there were "thousands" of Android apps available. RIM is in the midst of a complex transition to a new operating system, BlackBerry 10, for both the PlayBook and the next generation of BlackBerry smartphones.

On April 10, Saunders took to a RIM blog to expand on his tweets and "set the record straight." "Unfortunately, 140 characters doesn't allow for nuance," he posted. "I'd like to take this opportunity to set the record straight for our developer community."

"We're not getting rid of side-loading on the BlackBerry PlayBook OS or in BlackBerry 10," he declared, more or less directly contradicting the tweet that started the confusion. "Side-loading on our platform is changing in nature."

He stressed that side-loading is intended for software writers. "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," he wrote.

"What are we doing," he asked rhetorically. "Starting with our next release of the BlackBerry PlayBook OS, we're introducing a feature that will encrypt apps so they can only be run by the user who purchased the app." He didn't elaborate on the implications of such a feature.

"We're working with you, our developer community, to ensure you can still quickly and easily test your apps on real hardware," he posted. He reiterated RIM's pledge to hand out prototype devices for developers, along with the first look at the official BlackBerry 10 native SDK tool at the upcoming "BlackBerry 10 Jam" event for developers at the annual BlackBerry World user conference in Orlando.

In response to a reporter's query for clarification, RIM's PR team provided a link to Saunders' blog post.

At the CrackBerry forum, one poster, ad19, wrote in response, "Looks like side-loading is here to stay, but in a modified version. If implemented correctly, I think this should work just fine."

"I'm cautiously optimistic on this," agreed another, with the handle of TBone4eva. "It means that RIM is saying that [they] are only protecting apps from being pirated from App World, but not disabling development mode completely by encrypting the App World apps so they can't be sideloaded. I think that is completely fair."

But another user, BuzzStarField, posted: "Note also that there is already a method available to 'side-load' unsigned apps to PB so that we can test them. This method uses a type of temporary authorization known as 'debug tokens'. - and this method is much more efficient than loading signed apps. We do not know how RIM is going to allow us to distribute signed apps for beta testing or even if they will."


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