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Android or Windows? Now You Don't Have to Choose

A startup lets smart-phone apps run as fast as normal on a PC or laptop.

A startup called BlueStacks wants to end all your worrying about whether an app will run on a specific operating system. The company’s technology, which it’s showing off at trade shows, lets users run apps on operating systems they weren’t designed for.

The  software lets Android apps run on Windows, and lets Android apps run within the browser on Google’s ChromeOS. It can run Windows on top of Android or vice versa. The company will make the software available for download, but it can also be built into apps, and will come preinstalled on some hardware. “We don’t care about the operating system anymore,” says BlueStacks CEO Rosen Sharma. “It’s all about apps.”

Software “emulators” already make it possible to run software designed for one operating system on another, but emulators tend to run slowly because they translate code from one form into another. Sharma says the performance hit can make them 10 to 100 times slower than an application running within its native environment. In contrast, the BlueStacks software interfaces directly with the device’s hardware, meaning apps can run more smoothly and with better performance.

Many people now think of their smart phones and tablets as their main computing devices, a trend that is likely to accelerate as the power and variety of mobile devices increases. “For kids these days, their first computing experience is the phone,” Sharma says, adding: “All the cool apps are on Android and iPhone.” He also believes that many apps could benefit from having access to a larger screen, keyboard, or mouse.

BlueStacks’s technology could also let tablet manufacturers hedge their bets by providing a device that can run Windows for business applications, but can also run Android apps. According to the BlueStacks website, the forthcoming ViewSonic ViewPad Pro 10 tablet, which runs both Windows 7 and Android, will be powered by BlueStacks. Sharma also says that a version of BlueStacks will be available for users to download at the end of June—it would enable them to run Android apps on existing Windows devices.

“The world of apps has opened up the opportunities to get your baseball scores, get your soccer scores, get your football scores, check the weather, and really build a platform like your smart phone but on a notebook or a laptop,” said Nigel Dessau, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the semiconductor company AMD, speaking last week at Computex, an information technology show in Taipei, where BlueStacks was on display. “Users who are used to that sort of environment on their phone and want it in a bigger form factor are just going to love the BlueStacks world.” (BlueStacks’s technology is designed to work well with hardware produced by AMD.)

Ben Bajarin, director of consumer technology practice at the Silicon Valley consulting firm Creative Strategies, says BlueStacks will likely appeal to some consumers because it could help them “use the software [they] like, regardless of device.”

The product will appeal to developers, Bajarin says, because it helps them reach more people with an app. It also means that developers can build apps using the technologies common on mobile devices, and then easily get the same app running on a PC.

But Bajarin notes that BlueStacks goes further, “by leveraging some of the best parts of Windows and combining them with the good stuff from Android.” It is possible for Android apps to use device drivers from Windows—meaning that an app could easily send a document to a printer. By marrying the two operating systems, Bajarin believes, BlueStacks could give users a better experience than they would get with either Windows or Android on their own.

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