Research In Motion is making a very smart move, announcing that its upcoming PlayBook tablet will be able to run Android applications. Good news for Android lovers, as well as for buyers of the PlayBook, which RIM says is coming out April 19.
It's lost on no one that this turn of events will bring more apps -- maybe tons of new apps -- to the PlayBook. But wait. Of course, there's a catch or two.
First, RIM's PlayBook won't run these apps natively. RIM has announced an app player that would let Android 2.3 apps run in a different environment. (A separate app player will also be required for BlackBerry Java apps, RIM execs said.) Who knows what performance will survive these players.
Second, there are no plans (yet) to make the Android Market available on the PlayBook, so the tablet's users will have to get Android apps from RIM's BlackBerry App World, which is kludgy and a bit annoying, IMO. Plus, RIM gets the final word on which Android apps get in, based on whether developers follow its guidelines.
Quality control; I get it. Making sure the Android apps work well on the PlayBook is laudable. RIM's control might also have something to do with the stringent requirements of enterprise customers. The BlackBerry is the leading enterprise-class smartphone, and RIM will want to extend that robustness to the PlayBook.
RIM says Android app developers will be able to port apps easily to the PlayBook because of a "high degree" of compatibility between BlackBerry and Android APIs. We will learn what "high degree" means soon enough.
As long as developers don't find the work too difficult or tedious, the PlayBook could sell in the first few months with a large and growing array of Android apps. Tools to help Android developers port their apps are arriving soon, RIM execs said.
Are you a developer? Let me know what you think about the announcement, and the tools, when you get them. Is porting as easy as RIM promises? Reach me at the email address below. And listen to developments in this space on BYTE Mobile Radio, a 15-minute show that runs every Thursday.
For InformationWeek, TechWeb, and the upcoming BYTE.com, I'm Gina Smith.
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