“There is a pull in the market from consumers and that pull in the market is creating the space, which is, everybody wants to use their apps on a PC or a Mac,” Rosen Sharma, the chief executive of BlueStacks, underlines why he believes Microsoft’s move to bring Android apps natively on Windows 11 will only benefit his visualisation platform that allows users to run Android apps on a PC.
Sharma says it is consumers who want to use their smartphone apps on desktops, forcing companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google to look at this space more seriously. “The use case has become so dominant that they are almost forced to join the party,” Sharma tells indianexpress.com in a call from San Francisco.
Microsoft recently surprised many when it announced that it is bringing Android apps to Windows 11. But there was already a way to do it through BlueStacks, a popular and free emulator for running Android apps on Windows and macOS platforms. In fact, BlueStacks has 40 million monthly active users and over 180 million downloads per year, reaching a total of 1 billion downloads till date.
While news of the revamped Microsoft Store, which will have a section on Android apps when Windows 11 ships later this year created a lot of hype, the truth is you won’t be able to download the apps from the Google Play Store. Instead, the Android apps will be available through Amazon’s app store.
Yes, they are Android apps only but they come without Google Play Services, the key Android experience that will be available on devices running Google’s Android mobile operating system. Plus, Amazon’s app store is barren with no Google-made apps to be found. Even not all apps from Microsoft are not there.
“If you want to build a commercial product in this space, just because an app can run doesn’t mean the app is usable. For a demo, I can take TikTok and say it works but in reality, those apps, including Snapchat, are not usable because the cameras on the PCs are not good enough for those filters to work. I think it’s one thing just demoing and another thing making an app usable by consumers,” he explains.
The problem is most apps are designed for touch and not built for mouse and keyboard. “Who is going to do the work to make them playable with mouse and keyboard… there is a lot of tech that goes into this that BlueStacks supports,” he said, adding that Microsoft is in the early stages in this evolution. Citing the example of Apple, he said Cupertino has also been facing a similar issue of bringing iOS apps to macOS but its problems are different from Microsoft.
“The matrix of apps versus hardware configuration is really large,” Sharma said, referring to Microsoft’s problems as ‘Windows’ specific given that every Windows PC is different. “If they really want to productise this it will take them years.”
Sharma also noted that when Google introduced Android apps in ChromeOS it brought educational and banking apps, but to make the platform good for gaming there’s a lot of work to be done. “Google expected that the developers will do the work,” he takes a dig at the Mountain View giant. “Developers are not interested in doing the work. They always pay a few developers to bring their apps but the platform to be adopted by developers is a very different ballgame.”
The success of any platform is based on whether or not developers are willing to support it.
“Amazon’s strategy has been to get older apps because they give a higher cut to the developer. I think from that perspective, Amazon has some apps and they are bringing those apps on to the Windows Store. But I don’t know many people who use the Windows Store or the people who use the Amazon App Store.,” he said.
Sharma, the former chief technology officer at McAfee, is an alumnus of IIT-Delhi and a Ph.D. from Cornell University/Stanford. He started BlueStacks in 2009. The company gained popularity when it introduced the App Player, an Android emulator on PC in 2011. With BlueStacks, users can run any Android app on their Windows PC. BlueStacks is free to download and install.
“We are bringing mobile gaming to the next billion people,” Sharma describes how the platform over the years has become the destination to run popular Android games on the PC. “From a consumer perspective, being able to play apps on a big screen in the comfort of your PC with keyboard and mouse, is a pretty big deal,” he says. BlueStacks claims it records over 6.5 billion sessions in a year and 5 hours average playing time per day.
“When a new game comes out, there is excitement. If you don’t have the new game in the first week, it’s meaningless,” Sharma commented when asked about the lack of apps and games available on Amazon’s app store.
Android apps via Amazon’s App Store, which many see as one of the biggest features of Microsoft’s Windows 11, don’t appear a threat for Sharma. He, in fact, says this will create awareness about running smartphone apps on the desktop PC, indirectly benefiting his platform and the unique app container technology that enables games to be optimised to run on PC or Mac without any additional work needed from the developer. “In the next decade, I see apps will come to Windows but you need the tech stack that we built to run that.”
For years, Microsoft has been trying to get developers on board and make its app store as competitive as Apple’s and Google’s but that hasn’t worked for the Redmond-based software powerhouse. But under the leadership of Satya Nadella, Microsoft is once again wooing developers by letting them use their own payment platforms to charge consumers, allowing them to keep 100 per cent of the revenue they make from their apps. This is a different strategy, in fact, completely opposite to App Store policies by Apple, which has long insisted that developers use its own payment technology and takes as much as 30 per cent of any revenue generated from apps.
Microsoft embracing openness and the revival of an app store show why the company wanted Android apps on its new Windows 11 operating system, something that was always possible through the emulator software. But Microsoft faces a unique challenge, not just from established app marketplaces like the Apple App Store and Google Play Store but also from Steam and the Epic Games Store, two popular stores for downloading PC games. Getting the attention of developers to publish the app on the Windows Store isn’t going to be easy, though.
There is, of course, the popular Xbox brand Microsoft has to target console gamers and generate revenue by selling games. It also sells PC games and gaming on Windows got a big boost during the pandemic. The unification of PC gaming and console gaming is clearly visible in the recent moves by Microsoft.
“If we look at the usage of Windows from a consumer and enterprise point of view, a lot of those PCs live in the enterprise space. So having a store doesn’t make sense,” Sharma said.
There are also questions on how this Amazon App Store arrangement with Microsoft pans out. “If you get an app, and you make an in-app purchase and if the app crashes, who do you call? Microsoft, Amazon, or the game developer. If you call the game developer, they’re going to say we don’t support the app running on Windows. If you go to Amazon, they say it is not my problem and if you call Microsoft, they say they have no clue. This space is actually not as easy as it looks from the outside.”
Sharma says there are plenty of people who want their apps to be on the desktop and tech companies would not let this opportunity go waste. “If I look at the next decade, running apps on the cloud will become the dominant theme, and then they become available across all the platforms.”