It's Official: RIM to Support Android Apps, More on BlackBerry PlayBook

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We've seen unsubstantiated rumors, and heard hints that Research in Motion might expand its BlackBerry PlayBook Tablet OS to support Android apps, too. Now, just hours after the CTIA show in Orlando closed up, RIM announces that not only will the BlackBerry PlayBook Tablet OS support Android apps, but also native C/C++ code. This is in addition to supporting HTML 5, Flash, and Adobe AIR, and of course BlackBerry Java.

While exciting, it's important to note that the support for Android is not native to the QNX-based BlackBerry PlayBook OS used by RIM's upcoming 7-inch tablet. Rather, RIM says PlayBook users will have to download two "app players" to provide an emulation environment for BlackBerry Java and Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) apps.

This move opens up RIM's initial tablet offering to a wider swath of apps than it might otherwise have had at launch-and it eases the process of cross-platform development for app makers eager to get consumer eyeballs on their products, across all up-and-coming tablets. Currently, there are 25,000 BlackBerry Java apps available at BlackBerry App World. And Google's Android Market officially lists over 170,000 Android apps, most of which will run on Android 2.3.

How Will It Work?

For developers, RIM says the switchover will be easy. Those with either BlackBerry or Android apps will simply be able to port them over to the BlackBerry PlayBook OS by repackaging the app and adding a code sign; the apps will then be submitted to the BlackBerry App World for purchase.

On the device side, the app players will be placed into what RIM refers to as a "secure sandbox" so that the Java or Android apps can run, without impacting the operation of the rest of the device. No word yet on how the apps within the sandbox will behave with respect to multitasking, for example. Typically software makers use sandboxing techniques to prevent hackers from gaining access to other parts of the device. Data is protected because a bug in one program doesn't give the hacker access to other programs or data on the phone.

The PlayBook's two optional "app players" will provide run-time environments for BlackBerry Java apps and Android 2.3 apps. The players will let users download BlackBerry Java Apps and Android Apps from BlackBerry App World.

BlackBerry NDK Available This Summer

At the same time as RIM dropped this bombshell news, the company also announced that its BlackBerry Tablet OS Native Development Kit (NDK) will be going into open beta this summer, and will be demonstrated at BlackBerry World this May in Orlando. The NDK is currently in limited alpha release. With the NDK, developers will be able to construct multi-threaded, native C/C++ applications using standard GNU applications. This will make it easy to bring work done in standard C/C++ into the BlackBerry Tablet OS environment.

Depending upon how this works in practice, RIM's shrewd move to support Android apps could prove a huge boon in the ongoing tablet wars. We'll know soon enough how it's implemented: The BlackBerry PlayBook ships on April 19.

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