Research In Motion finally officially confirmed yesterday that its forthcoming BlackBerry PlayBook tablet would be able to run Google Android apps.Well, sort of. Here’s what’s actually going on.
The PlayBook will technically be able to run most Android apps, via a “virtual machine” that makes the app think they are running on an Android phone. (RIM’s press materials call this an optional “app player.”) This is sort of the way a Mac can run Windows via a virtual machine. It sounds like consumers will have to download the Android App Player from the BlackBerry App World market and install it manually.
It will support apps as new as Android 2.3 “Gingerbread.” It will NOT support apps for the new Android 3.0 “Honeycomb,” which is the one designed for tablets. The problem is that these “Gingerbread” apps are designed to run on smartphones, NOT on tablets. They may be stretched to the size of the 7-inch tablet screen — could be ugly! — and their user interfaces will NOT take full advantage of the tablet’s screen real estate.
You won’t just be able to access the Android Market on your PlayBook. RIM will run a separate Android app store, and developers will have to submit their apps manually to that store. Here’s how RIM describes it: “Developers will simply repackage, code sign and submit their BlackBerry Java and Android apps to BlackBerry App World.” Apps will have to be approved by RIM, and then they will be distributed through the BlackBerry App World.
The Android apps could run poorly on the PlayBook. During RIM’s conference call yesterday, co-CEO Jim Balsillie noted that the virtual machine could have performance issues, and that games and other resource-heavy apps will want to be coded specifically for the PlayBook using RIM’s QNX platform and SDK.
So, why is RIM doing this? Because it will be able to say that the PlayBook can technically support tens of thousands of Android apps. (Even though they’re not designed to run on tablets.) Balsillie even said as much on the earnings call yesterday, referring repeatedly to satisfying the need for a “tonnage of apps.”
But before you can actually run these Android apps, you’ll have to install a new App Player and the developers will have to create and submit new, PlayBook-ready versions of the apps. (Will they? Most probably won’t even buy a PlayBook to test them on.)
Then RIM will have to approve them for their store. And then you can download and run them. And then they might not even work well.
Sure sounds like a great system. We can’t wait to try it out.