BlueStacks uses virtualization to run iOS apps on Android-powered GamePop console

Apps are moving from mobile devices back to the TV with a new pay-one-price subscription service

Virtualization doesn't always have to be about administrators in khaki pants and polo shirts splicing up physical servers into many virtual servers behind data center walls. The technology can provide end-users with a bit of fun as well.

BlueStacks, a company that launched in 2009 with $15 million of investment money from Andreessen-Horowitz, Radar Partners, Redpoint, Ignition Partners, and Qualcomm, decided to use virtualization to bring the energy of the mobile app world to every type of device on the market, then turn it into big business.

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I first met up with BlueStacks at Citrix Synergy in 2011. At the time the company was showing off a beta version of its LayerCake mobile-to-PC virtualization technology, which gave PC users the ability to run Android applications on their Windows laptop and desktops. It took the company two years to build the LayerCake technology, and it's already been downloaded more than 10 million times.

During our discussion at Citrix Synergy, company representatives declined to share any of the details about how the virtualization technology worked. All they would say is that it would allow Android, which was designed for lower-powered smartphones and tablets, to run efficiently on higher-powered PCs. The company also stated that end-users wouldn't have to toggle between operating systems, but instead could simply click on an icon for an Android application to launch and use it in a Windows environment. This capability was later extended to Mac environments.

Fast-forward two years and the company is back with a new virtualization process designed to bring together Android and iOS applications and deliver them to a big-screen television via the company's Android-powered TV set-top box.

Last week the company announced that its upcoming GamePop console would not only be capable of running games written for the Android platform, but it would also be able to play games written for Apple iPhone and iPad devices. This is big news in the mobile market because Apple doesn't allow its iOS applications to be played on non-iOS devices. The Android-powered console is able to do that because it's using a new proprietary mobile-to-TV virtualization technology pioneered by BlueStacks called Looking Glass.

Once again, the company is keeping the virtualization details mum. But even though BlueStacks' CEO Rosen Sharma wouldn't describe the details about how the Looking Glass technology works, he did say it's not an emulator for iOS.

According to Sharma, the virtualization technology for the GamePop console is different from the virtualization technology the company created for its PC product line. Instead, Looking Glass is more of an API-level virtualization. As an example, if an app makes a call to a menu item within Apple's platform, it goes to an iOS library in order to draw the appropriate menu. But in this case, BlueStacks intercepts the call and draws the menu instead.

"We re-create the API that iOS provides, but we don't use any Apple bits to do it," said Sharma. "The developer just gives us the app and we make sure that it'll run on GamePop." This is possible, according to Sharma, because the basic functions on iOS and Android have moved closer together and are very similar from an API perspective.

To be successful, it is important for BlueStacks to make things as easy as possible for developers to bring over their apps to this new platform. While developers don't have to worry about recoding their apps, they do have to consider the effects of changing over their payment back end so that it works with BlueStacks' subscription model.

Beyond bringing mobile games to the big screen of the television, BlueStacks also hopes to change the economics of the traditional gaming console (relatively expensive hardware subsidized by even more expensive games) and that of the mobile app market. Instead of offering a mobile app on the Apple or Android market place for say $1.99, the apps being offered on the GamePop console are going to be part of a $6.99 per month "all you can eat" subscription service, à la Netflix model.

BlueStacks does not plan to sell games on an à-la-carte basis, which may not be popular with some consumers, but Sharma said the company still believes that's the best model.

BlueStacks believes there is a lot of pull in the marketplace for up-selling mobile gaming to TV. To capture as much of that market as it can, BlueStacks is in talks with carriers, TV manufacturers, and cable companies, which could eventually offer the service to their respective customers.

While this new console and mobile virtualization technology sounds interesting, there is still one big question that surrounds its future: WWAD (what will Apple do)?

For an end-user looking to have access to both Android and iOS apps from a single device (then move it to the big screen), this offering might make sense. But does anyone believe for one minute that Apple will just sit on the sidelines and watch? You can almost bet Apple has a series of patents designed to keep this from happening. Or if it can't stop the API virtualization technology, Apple could strong-arm the development community to keep iOS applications from showing up on the GamePop service. Because if a service like this proves popular, it could take away valuable dollars spent at the Apple iTunes App Store.

BlueStacks plans to have hundreds of iOS and Android titles available on its GamePop service when the console is released later this year. BlueStacks said it will reward customers who sign up and commit to a one-year $6.99-per-month service plan by giving them a free console and controller. Interested users need to pre-order at gamepop.tv before the end of June to take advantage of that offer; next month the price of the console will jump to $129. Extra controllers will cost about $20, but you should also be able to use your Android or iOS device as a controller as well.

Does bringing your mobile apps to a TV make sense to you? Would you consider a console like this over (or in addition to) a PS4 or Xbox One?

This article, "BlueStacks uses virtualization to run iOS apps on Android-powered GamePop console," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in virtualization and cloud computing at InfoWorld.com.

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