RIM unlikely to allow PlayBook to run Android apps

Rumour alert, rumour alert.This one — and let's be honest, in the mobile world they come thick and fast — comes courtesy of "multiple trusted sources" inside RIM.
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

Rumour alert, rumour alert.

This one — and let's be honest, in the mobile world they come thick and fast — comes courtesy of "multiple trusted sources" inside RIM. According to BoyGeniusReport, the company is considering running the Dalvik virtual machine on its upcoming QNX-based BlackBerry PlayBook tablet.

The reasoning behind this is simple enough. Provide a virtual machine for the most business-oriented of smartphone manufacturers, and hey presto, support for legacy apps - often ones that businesses have spent good money having custom built. Or so BGR says.

Now, we've come across Dalvik before, it's an integral part of the Android software stack, one that Oracle claims infringes on seven Java-related patents. But that's not the point.

The point is, if Dalvik is put on the PlayBook (and/or other QNX devices), it would be capable of running apps designed for Android. BGR speculates that if their sources are correct, the company could even enter into an official agreement with Google to certify cross-platform compatability.

Utopian software heaven as this may sound to some would-be BlackBerry owners, I can't see it happening.

If RIM was to endorse Android apps on its platform and devices alongside its own BlackBerry App World, it could be taken as an acknowledgement that the company doesn't see another way to catch up with Apple's App Store.

In an interview on the 10th January with FierceWireless, RIM's vice president of global alliances and developer relations Tyler Lessard said that BlackBerry App World now had 17,000 apps and counting - with more than two million downloads per day.

In the other corner you have Android, which has a rapidly expanding catalogue of apps, currently somewhere just north of 200,000.

If you compare that to the Apple App Store's current vitals, which pit it at some where around three gajillion — okay, more like 400,000 — apps and 10 billion downloads, it's a pretty big deficit. Even if Google and RIM, in the most unlikely of events, announced a combined app attack strategy, that's still quite a gap to make up in terms of numbers.

But to me numbers don't seem to be the point. RIM, has and likely will, retain its loyal fan base - two million downloads per day spread across only 17,000 apps is a pretty healthy turnover and an indication of demand from its users. And where there is demand there will always be developers.

Conversely, Android has many more apps than BlackBerry App World but Android platform manager Peter Chu told Forbes on Tuesday that while the number of Android handsets is seeing a sharp increase, Google is "not happy" with the monetisation of the Market.

Gartner is currently projecting that during 2011 app store revenues will exceed $15bn (in sales and ad revenues) and so naturally, Google wants to make sure it gets a healthy slice of that pie.

Comparing BlackBerry App World with Android Market in this way seems redundant. From a consumer perspective it would be great if the two hooked up — no one is going to sniff at a wider choice of apps, though not many are going to be impressed by an entire store of fart apps either — but from the business perspective, and given the different target audiences of the devices, it just doesn't gel.

Gartner also says that 82% of all app downloads will be free downloads in 2011, but that the trend is set to decrease. However, it's then predicted to increase again in 2012 through 2014 as users begin to have more faith in the billing mechanisms and see more value in the apps themselves, at which point the market will have exploded by 1000 percent between 2010 and 2014. But that's enough of the crystal ball.

And that's the thing I can't ignore, it would be so early in the game — the iTunes App Store only launched in July 2008 — for two such big players to be making any official deals to run Android apps on QNX devices, particularly when the operating systems and the eco-systems they create are pretty much the key differentiating factors between handsets nowadays.

Interestingly, several major operators announced at MWC 2010 that they would be working together to create multi-platform apps as part of a scheme called the Wholesale Applications Community (WAC). However, the group's core members are comprised of operators (largely) rather than manufacturers. And if you look really closely, you'll see that neither RIM nor Google are on that list in any capacity. Which is hardly an indication that the two will want to be joining app forces anytime soon.

Android apps on PlayBook? Not likely, at least not yet.

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