Dan Rowinski's Mobile Platform

By Dan Rowinski

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Will the BlackBerry PlayBook run Android apps?

There has been a rumor going around that the upcoming tablet PC from Research In Motion, the BlackBerry PlayBook, will be able to run Google’s Android operating system applications.

I have not reported on it (besides for maybe tweeting a link from Engadget on it), because, well, I will believe it when I see it.  When it comes to BlackBerry and software (and rumors) there often seems to be a throw-things-at-the-wall-to-see what-will-stick approach.

Eventually though, and often with great difficulty, the concept makes it to consumers. The BlackBerry App World, for instance, was a necessary step for the BlackBerry ecosystem yet it came as a complete reactionary move to the Apple App Store and the looming threat of a very large Android Market. Android deployed its market in October 2008, while still in its nascent stages of consumer adoption. BlackBerry, though firmly entrenched for years, did not roll out its app store until April 2009. As of this month, the Android Market has a reported 130,000 apps. BlackBerry App World has 20,000.

For the company that once led the smart phone race, it fell behind in the app development department and that, as much as the technological and software advances of Android and iOS, is part of the reason that BlackBerry is struggling to keep pace. Couple that with the lackluster browser on BlackBerrys, the slow adoption of WebKit-like interfaces, the big promises that fall into the shallow end of the pool (see: BlackBerry OS 6), and the plain “coolness” factor of Apple and Android and it is easy to see how Research In Motion has lost market share.

I often ask people, if you took one phone -- same specs, same operating system, same network – and labeled each one Apple, Android or BlackBerry (sorry, Windows Mobile, Nokia and HP), which one would you buy? This is a completely unscientific survey, of course, but over 50 percent of the people say Apple.

The answer to these market woes, RIM hopes, will be the PlayBook. It has a new, sophisticated OS, competitive hardware specifications and, aside from some connectivity issues (Wi-Fi only to start, must be tethered to a BlackBerry for wireless, WiMax from Sprint coming this summer), has been getting solid reviews from press members who have had demonstrations.

It all then comes back to apps.

Bloomberg is reporting anonymous sources that say that RIM is looking at a way to incorporate Android applications into the PlayBook OS. The details of how this is going to be done remain a touch hazy, but Bloomberg says that it will not be done using Google’s Davlik, the Java-based programming that runs Android apps, as had been the rumor. The report cites the ongoing legal dispute between Oracle and Google over the Java platform that Oracle acquired when it purchased Sun Microsystems last year. David Heit, director of product strategy at RIM, declined comment on Davlik or Android apps on the PlayBook in a recent interview.

The obvious way around Davlik is for RIM to play with the similarities between the PlayBook OS and Android, which include the Unix-based POSIX development standard, as Bloomberg notes.

If RIM can pull off the ability to run Android apps on the PlayBook, it has the potential to be a game-changer for the device. The security and enterprise functionality of BlackBerry mixed the application utility and hip factor of Android would make for a great combination.

So much so that analysts are even starting to change their tune.

“From what we are hearing about the feature set of the PlayBook, it is unlikely to have a major impact in 2011,” industry analyst Chetan Sharma said via email to GCN last month.

Sharma also talked to Bloomberg and had this to say about the possible Android/PlayBook mix:

“It will be a shrewd move to let Android apps run on RIM without any performance or user interface hiccups,” said Sharma. “It will make the RIM platform attractive to consumers as it lacks the strength of the rivals from an apps perspective.”

Does that mean the PlayBook will have a “major impact” in 2011? That remains to be seen. Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” will release its first tablets by the end of February, HP has just made a gbig splash with webOS after its acquisition of Palm, and not only is an iPad 2 rumored to drop in April, now there are hints that an iPad 3 is scheduled for the fall.

Yet, incentivizing application developers to create PlayBook-orientated apps via Android is as good a way as any to make a dent in the market. Because, hey, if you can’t beat them, might as well ride their coattails.


Posted by Dan Rowinski on February 11, 2011 at 8:29 AM


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