Angry Birds Space running in the BlueStacks beta app player for Windows. (Credit: BlueStacks)

The BlueStacks app player for running Android apps on Windows has taken a major step forward today with the release of its first beta, which can run even graphics-intensive Android apps on desktop PCs.

The BlueStacks beta (download) leverages a new, patent-pending technology that the company has developed called LayerCake, which does two things necessary for running Android apps on Windows. First, it powers the app on hardware that it wasn't originally intended to run on. That's basically the ARM to x86 conversion which runs the apps, and it comes with the blessing of one of AMD's head honchos.

"LayerCake is a disruptive technology that enables PC manufacturers to bring the best of the Android ecosystem to their customers. We are excited to work with BlueStacks to make the emerging Android mobile apps market part of the broader computing arena," Manju Hegde, corporate vice president, Content, Applications and Solutions at AMD, said in BlueStacks' statement announcing the new beta.

LayerCake also includes hardware graphics acceleration that wasn't available in last year's BlueStacks alpha. This means that it uses your PC's graphics card to make graphics-intensive apps, including Android NDK games like Air Attack HD, run more smoothly. "It's actually quite similar to the hardware acceleration in your browser," BlueStacks CEO Rosen Sharma said during a phone call with CNET yesterday.

There's more to LayerCake's hardware acceleration than that, though. It also can replicate accelerometer tilting in apps that utilize it via the mouse or arrow keys. Pinch-to-zoom is also supported on mouse trackpads.

Air Attack HD running in the BlueStacks beta app player for Windows. (Credit: BlueStacks)

BlueStacks saw enormous success during its brief, three-month long alpha test last year. "We had more than one million downloads in three months," said Sharma, who added that BlueStacks traffic equaled one-sixth of the Kindle Fire purchases during the same period. "It's possible that two months from now, we'll become the largest Android deployment on large screens," he said.

This beta debuts a significantly changed program. You can download apps directly from within BlueStacks, without using an Android phone, and it comes with a dock launcher that fits naturally with the Windows interface. Using BlueStacks' Cloud Connect feature for syncing apps, you can now send and receive text messages on your PC. There are plans, Sharma said, to expand it to include more of your phone's notifications, too.

Android apps such as Angry Birds, which cost money for their PC versions, can now run on your PC. So if the Android app is free, then you can run it on your Windows box for free, too. The multitude of simple photo editors are another example of Android app that BlueStacks can run on your PC. I'm not sure the world wants the Android version of Instagram on Windows, but chances are somebody will dig applying those filters to the photos saved on their desktop.

"This is a leveling of the playing field," said John Garguilo, BlueStacks' vice president of marketing and business development.

You can also run apps in either windowed or full-screen mode, and BlueStacks now comes localized for 12 non-English speaking countries including Korea, China, Germany, The Netherlands, Brazil, Japan, Argentina, Mexico, Spain, France, Italy, and Russia. Localization goes beyond translation, and includes region-specific apps. So, KakaoTalk will come with the Korean version of BlueStacks; Germans will get eBuddy; WhatsApp comes to the Spanish-speaking countries, and China gets Weibo.

Among the numerous pre-installed Android apps on BlueStacks for English-speakers are Fruit Ninja, StumbleUpon, and Evernote.