Metro Beware: AMD and Bluestacks Bring Android Apps to the PC

AMD has recently announced the new AppZone Player, a joint effort with partner Bluestacks to give PC users access to Android apps.

The news was broken in an unofficial press release by Gave Gravning, head of AMD’s “App Ecosystem Business & Marketing Strategy.” Gravning is clear about the appeal of Android integration into AppZone (500,000+ apps now on your PC!) and about Bluestacks’ impressive LayerCake technology, which draws upon AMD Radeon GPUs and OpenGL implementation to optimize the scaling of mobile to desktop screens.

AMD’s AppZone is powered by but distinct from Bluestacks’ own App Player, which aims to deliver PC users the ability to run apps from both Android and iOS. The AppZone, on the other hand, is a collection of several dozen free apps — but keep in mind that only some of these are drawn from Android’s 500,000+ app market. Both platforms join previous Android emulators such as YouWave, as well as Google’s own PC-based Android SDK… although the former lacks Bluestacks’ more massive app database, and the latter can be something of a nightmare for non-developers to get up and running.

Bluestacks is already powering a range of ASUS products, courtesy of a partnership to bring the Bluestacks App Player to the Open Cloud Computing infrastructure. OCC is a stab at device agnostic integration, which ideally allows all ASUS desktop, laptop, and mobile devices to offer a similar experience. If this is starting to sound a little familiar, there’s little doubt that AMD and Bluestacks have their eyes on Microsoft’s upcoming operating system. Windows 8 has a dual nature, providing a familiar desktop environment on one side but an app-based Metro interface on the other side. Redmond wants to cater to the shift of consumers toward mobile multitouch devices, and especially their love of apps, with a “scalable” operating system that provides a device-agnostic OS. Bluestacks jumps operating systems but allows the apps to remain consistent, especially when synced using the company’s CloudConnect app (they’re even integrating PC-based SMS sync, a goal which has been a tempting but pitfall-ridden holy grail of sorts).

Bluestacks and AMD bring Android Apps to Windows PC

Interestingly, some reports of the AMD / Bluestacks partnership (such as this one from GigaOM) seem to imply that you’ll need a PC built with AMD processors. This is at best a confusing use of the phrase “AMD chips” and at worst a ploy by the AMD’s PR department to discourage Intel buyers. For the record, Bluestacks will work just fine with Intel CPUs, although you will see the best results if your PC handles video via an AMD-powered graphics card. Intel chipsets with integrated graphics and Nvidia-based video cards may not quite deliver the OpenGL-optimized performance levels of a PC with a Radeon GPU or AMD APU.

Somewhat ironically, given the more compact and “thin client” nature of PCs with integrated graphics, such a system would be even more likely to benefit from access to apps. In many cases, an app is a “cut-down” version of a full PC application, typically focusing on providing a streamlined interface and limited feature set. For mobile users, this is a benefit; apps generally take better advantage of the considerably lower performance potential of a mobile device, and optimize the interface to work with multitouch rather than the more precise keyboard-and-mouse paradigm.

All of this is good news for consumers who prefer the app experience of their phones and tablets (and TVs, and more) to the more cumbersome PC application experience. It’s good news for AMD and Bluestacks, and also for app developers, who get a wider market for their ‘wares. Intel, as we’ve noted, may have some reason to worry, and Nvidia is probably not overjoyed either (although OpenGL support is not exactly lacking on Nvidia GPUs, Bluestacks is obviously AMD-centric). Microsoft, whose Metro app stable and overall reputation is a running cause for concern, may well regard Bluestacks and AMD as a threat — competing for the next generation of hybrid desktop / mobile users.

Perhaps the only segment that can really muster a gripe is the diehard desktop PC advocates. One can sympathize with the complaint that Bluestacks is hastening the Post-PC era by catering to a simplified and less powerful method of computing. On the other hand, you may just as well argue (as does BlueStacks CEO Rosen Sharma) that the windfall of apps actually provides a compelling element to struggling OEMs in the PC market, as well as desktop users who’d rather (for example) play Angry Birds on a big HD monitor.

Hannah is a 22 year old Western Washington University graduate, specializing in technology, adventure, and all things marketing. She is a writer for and loves all things technology. Follow her at @hongryhannah, and thanks for reading!