Oh, RIM. You're hemorrhaging customers, executives, and share value. It's painfully obvious you're on track for a disaster of Palm-proportions. And still, your upper-level management fling zingers at the competition that would make anyone but the die-hardest of BlackBerry fans skip the facepalm and go straight to a facedesk. It's almost like watching a Shakespearean tragedy unfold.

If you've not been keeping up with the cutting edge of all things RIM, allow me to give you a quick run-down. RIM's Alec Saunders (VP of Developer Relations) announced recently that future BlackBerry PlayBook tablet updates would no longer allow the sideloading of apps (sideloading is the ability to install applications from outside of the official BlackBerry App World). BlackBerry, like Apple, operates a closed, curated app ecosystem. When asked why sideloading was getting the axe, Saunders tweeted the following:

Shortly thereafter, the full weight of the internet tech press came down on Saunders' statement with the white-hot fury of a thousand burning suns (OK, maybe more like a few dozen burning suns).

The fact that RIM's App World now even pales in comparison to the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace, and that the selection of PlayBook apps is even smaller and sadder than that, makes it pretty hard to believe that RIM's App World team can bash any of the competition in good faith at this point. Unless it's WebOS, but then again, it's not polite to speak ill of the dead. So, belittling the Android Market (Play Store) as a "chaotic cesspool" because of its open model is a bit ironic - considering Android has been an unabashed success in the marketplace, and that much of that success has been at RIM's expense.


Photo from RIM's 2012 Management Workshop Cruise

But what is this "huge problem" with piracy on Android Saunders refers to? Well, much of the sentiment regarding piracy on Android stems from a piracy "heat map" published almost 2 years ago. This was shortly after the release of Google's LVL DRM system, and before many countries around the world had access to paid apps on the Android Market (as it was called at the time). Even for those that did have access to paid apps, a lack of carrier billing support (or credit cards for Google Wallet) discouraged many people from purchasing apps. And while Android was certainly getting big by mid-2010, it was no where near the mainstream behemoth it is today - meaning the proportion of highly tech-savvy Android users was likely a lot higher at that point in time.

And the study itself was inherently flawed - it took data from a very small sample (only the author's apps were used, eg - Screebl Pro), and therefore provided information that was bound to be skewed based on the app's target audience. Screebl, for example, is a rather nerdy and semi-technical app for controlling screen orientation behavior to save battery.

Moreover, no well-documented data (aside from the KeyesLabs heat map) has ever been published showing the actual prevalence of piracy on Android - and one survey asking developers about piracy that received widespread coverage last year was paid for and conducted in part by a company that is involved in a bitter lawsuit with Google. While I'm not saying it was bogus, it does lead me to suspect the study's conclusion was decided long before the results were compiled, considering over half of those surveyed indicated piracy wasn't actually a problem on Android.

How does this all relate to sideloading? Android handsets (except a few lingering devices on AT&T) have the ability to install "untrusted" applications by simply checking a box in the Settings menu, therefore allowing some pirated software to be loaded onto an Android device without any extra workarounds (like root access, though sometimes this is needed, too). RIM's Saunders contends that this has contributed to a huge piracy problem on Android [citation needed].

His argument relies on a most dubious assumption - that this one step in the act of piracy is pivotal, and that removing access to this function would act to significantly discourage piracy as a whole. But the ability to install untrusted software is not in and of itself suspicious, and certainly is not the root of, or primary way to prevent, piracy - that's a ludicrous basis for an argument. When someone pirates Photoshop, Adobe doesn't complain that Windows allows users to run "untrusted" software, it makes its DRM more robust and closes security holes.

But putting a lock on that otherwise open door of sideloading makes it more difficult for pirates to do what they do, right? That certainly hasn't stopped people from pirating iPhone apps, something Apple is absolutely obsessed with thwarting. Its efforts have resulted in forcing some pirates to wait to upgrade their OS version or buy new hardware, but never has it actually stopped those who really want to do it. If Adobe, Ubisoft, and Apple haven't been able to kill piracy and exploitation of their software, something tells me RIM's not going to have much luck, either.

Would removing the sideloading feature reduce piracy on Android? Maybe. But given how easy it is to root most Android handsets (and thus circumvent that barrier), the many legitimate uses of sideloading (such as alternative app stores), and the lack of any definitive proof of a truly widespread and damaging piracy problem on Android, this all seems like a lot of puffery from a company looking to sell its "secure" image by bashing the competition (without evidence, to boot) instead of letting its products speak for themselves.

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • jeff donuts

    bahahaha the photo made me laugh good one AP. better check my spelling or the spellcheck police might say something

    • Shawn

      "... laugh. good one AP. ...."


      • momentai

        "... laugh. Good one AP. ..."



    • Hal Motley

      I agree the image is very funny!

      I use sideloading occasionally and it is mostly for legitimate use such as when I installed Yongzh's emulator apps from the SlideMe Marketplace.

      Besides alongside those "AT&T devices" some e-book readers such as the Kobo, Nook and Kindle Fire all lack the Google Play store and would need sideloading outside of their respective marketplaces.

      Although I have used it once or twice to be naughty, I mostly use sideloading legimately.

      Also I believe that only iOS should be the "closed" mobile OS, if I were to buy a BlackBerry I would want it to be open and have an accessible filesystem and sideloading. I think RIM have lost edge!

      • Havocoid

        Yea I sideload a lot of apps from my SGSII to my kids Kindle Fire using dropbox, ultimate backup, and EZfile... Amazon seems to have more of the paid apps on there market. I for one ant paying two times for the same app for a OS thats basically Android...

  • http://about.me/chrisfink TattoozNTech

    RIM... sigh... you will be gone soon. try not to crap on everyone, on your way out the door please. thx, bye.

  • Crutey

    I love nothing more than a free lunch, but I buy Android apps left, right, and center! They normally cost less than a cup of coffee and by NOT pirating them you get updates without having to constantly search for them...

    No brainer.

    • drrrrooooooooiiiiiiiiddrrrroooooooooiddrrrrroooooooooooooid

      i agree, I have pirated apps before to check them out (especially after the reduction from the hour refund window to a mere 15 minutes), but if I like the app I will buy it just for the updates because it is way more convenient than keeping up with the app myself and they really don't cost that much so the savings of stealing aren't even worth it.

      On a side note though my friends and I have all pirated the slingbox apps. $30 for the phone version AND a separate $30 for the tablet version is outrageous, especially after I paid over $100 for the device itself? That's a ridiculous price to tack on for something that is an advertised functionality of the device.

      • Chris Bozsik

        Ditto. I buy apps simply for the convenience of updates. I do pirate the occasional app but either only because I want to test it out before buying it OR the price of the damn thing is near extortion.

        The 15 minute refund window usually isn't nearly enough time to get a judge of most apps. I usually play with an app for a week, if I like it I'll buy it, if not then it usually sits on my tablet or phone unused until I decide to do a mass delete of all the apps I don't use.

    • Tim Thomas

      I agree with you. Updates are important as they add new improvements to the apps. It is mush easier to pay the $1.99 or so to just buy the app. Plus with Google's integration that same app will still be available on all of your Android devices.

      There is one that I use everyday that I have to sideload because it is no longer in the Play Store (Copyright issues). It can still be distributed legally just not on the market. I am sure there are more apps like that floating around.

      I am also sure that there are apps that have been developed for a personal use only, perhaps just distributed to a few devices for testing. Sideloading makes this possible as well.

  • http://tantrajnaan.com Robert Dunn

    While I do agree about the the app piracy being a problem for devs, I also don't care. I'm a developer myself. While I don't realy think my game is quite good enough to merit someone wanting to steal, I am going to prevent them from doing it anyway. It's called an in-app purchase. The freemium mode makes more money anyway.

    Also, sideloading is a feature that just needs to be there. You wouldn't buy a desktop computer that was restricted to one app store. I think the same should apply for smartphones.

    • Sorian

      I agree, if you develop an app that is going to be profit oriented, you protect it, no matter how it is loaded.

  • nerdshowandtell

    RIM is still in business? lol

  • Sam

    And ability to Jailbreak leads to piracy on iOS

    • amit

      lolz, you made me laugh Sam.

  • Sathed

    RIM's stock is down 91.24% since it peaked in June 2008. I don't think they have room for error here. This, would be a big error on their part.

  • jan

    If there were more payment options i would be more then willing to lay down a few euros to pay for my apps. I have paid for some of my apps because you could buy them of their website instead of the market. But with the most apps you cant, so i am either forced with add bloated apps or pirating. And untill google sorts this issue out it is pirating for me...

  • Randy W

    Rim is going down for the third time. Bye bye.

  • Kamikaze

    If someone seriously makes the effort to pirate a 5$ or less app and risks spyware and malicious apps, while also forgoing automatic updates will also do this without sideloading enabled.

  • Tyler C

    Its statements such as this that causes me to eagerly look forward to the death of an entirely no longer necessary company to the mobile computing world. Goodbye RIM, no one really likes you, so you can throw your temper tantrum of your failures into the corner where I sure youve been told to stay put for being so childish.

  • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com Cody Toombs

    In a funny way this should be a non-story (I know it's an editorial, which does validate it) because RIM is quickly becoming the Joe Biden of tech companies (or Eric Schmidt if you prefer) in that some newly minted quote rolls out each week that's just a little stupider than the last.

    They did some smart things like giving free playbooks to developers (I got one, they are actually way better than I expected but still not my favorite). Overall the company continues to surge down this road of terrible decisions and generally bad products (their phones). This latest announcement demonstrates they are rejecting the hacker market which is responsible for keeping Windows Mobile alive a few extra years and making Android a massive success. The whole GeoHot vs PS3 thing was a great example of what happens when companies try to be overly restrictive with their products.

    At this stage, RIM should just start calling up HP to see if they will buy another dead OS...

  • squiddy20

    What this guy fails to understand is, if the ability to sideload apps is disabled, there goes the ability to install apps through other legitimate app stores (such as Amazon, GetJar, Appbrain(?), Gameloft (if not through the Play Store), etc. I've never used Blackberry phones, so I'm not certain if this applies to them, but it's stupid to think that just because you can sideload apps *must* mean there's a huge piracy problem.

  • Jameslepable

    The only time I sideloaded an app was if the price was over £5 and the wasn't a free trial version. As an example I think the was titanium backup, had it for 5 minutes and instantly went to the market and bought it because it is just worth the money. I think if devs had more trials like swift key does they may sell more apps, just a thought.

  • Colin

    Do they think Pirates won't find a way around this?

  • cosmic

    Those who were going to pirate would find a way. Locking it all down doesn't prevent it as even ios has seen. You are a lot better off trying to prove to people they're better with just buying an app.

    Safer, easy updates, and generally low prices and even ad supported apps. I see no reason to pirate.

  • NuLLnVoiD

    And RIM makes so many other great decisions...

  • Kindroid

    RIM should just join the real Android and get it over. By the way...even Google warns in the strongest possible language against side loading apps. Most of the security problems sited on Android are directly related to side loaded apps. You play to near the fire....you get burned.

  • anamika

    There are huge number of indians buying android mobiles now. The problem of sideloading would just increase.
    Google Play needs to provide alternate payment process. Currently it has only Credit Card and not many Indians own one. Even if they did they might not want to use it( I get charged extra for currency exchange ). Most online transaction in India are direct debit or carrier billing.

  • Ian Stephenson

    Side loading ability doesn't create the piracy problem. Developers could easily use licensing and their own DRM to kill piracy, but most don't, and those who do use some easy to crack licensing.

  • Old Blackberry User

    "BlackBerry, like Apple, operates a closed, curated app ecosystem. "

    What?!?!...are you smoking?

    You can, and always have been able to, "sideload" apps on a BB!

    Copy the files to the phone/SD....browse to the .ALX file....install. Done.

    Or, if youre really lazy...just use BBSAK.

    LOL. I think RIM's management has been replaced by a bunch of politicians.

  • Charitable Charlie

    The ability to sideload is NOT a problem, it is a REQUIREMENT! Come ON, RIM, I once had faith in you enough to buy stock. No longer!

  • Ankit

    seriously i india there is a payment problem coz paying via credit card is rare here
    also i will laugh to see the stats of indian buying an app
    +1 to anamika she had a point

  • https://steamcommunity.com/id/m-p-3 m-p{3}

    If sideloading wasn't there, we couldn't test the VLC pre-alpha.

  • Matt

    I use sideloading. As other people have said, I use it mainly for other appstores. I've also used it for things like Humble Bundle. These are all legitimate purchases. It's one of the things I love about Android.

  • denimdan

    Go ahead and take sideloading out... I'll just push them to system/app