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Summary:

The unanswered question of app availability for Research In Motion’s PlayBook tablet becomes clearer today: the company announced support not only for Java apps but also for Google Android software. That’s great for perspective PlayBook owners, but does this include RIM in Oracle’s suit against Google?

BlackBerry PlayBook

Research In Motion’s plans for its PlayBook tablet became a little more focused today: The company just announced its tablet will run Google Android applications through a special “app player.” The Android Market currently holds around 300,000 applications per the AndroLib site, which is far more than RIM could have mustered up for the PlayBook tablet. The new device runs on a different operating system than its current BlackBerry handsets, which have access to roughly 10,000 applications.

This news didn’t come as a total surprise, as it was rumored for the past several months. What makes this possible for RIM, and potentially other device makers, is that Google apps run in a virtual machine called the Dalvik VM. Not to over-simplify, but this means RIM only needs to create virtual machine software, or “app player,” for its PlayBook tablet to support Android applications. RIM calls this a standalone “sandbox” the applications won’t have any negative impact on the core operating system if they crash. And PlayBook owners will find the Android apps directly in the BlackBerry App World, so there’s no need to look in multiple app stores for software.

But not all Android Market apps will appear on the PlayBook, because RIM is placing some controls around the process. From the press release:

Developers will simply repackage, code sign and submit their BlackBerry Java and Android apps to BlackBerry App World. Once approved, the apps will be distributed through BlackBerry App World, providing a new opportunity for many developers to reach BlackBerry PlayBook users. Users will be able to download both the app players and the BlackBerry Java and Android apps from BlackBerry App World.

By controlling which apps are available, BlackBerry PlayBook owners ought to get higher-quality app selections for their device, which is different from the overall Android Market experience. This development could also help programmers who create apps for the Android platform. If RIM’s PlayBook is a success, it could boost Android app sales and create additional revenues as a result.

While this news answers the question of app availability on RIM’s PlayBook, another question remains open in regard to Oracle’s pending suit against Google. In October, Oracle sued Google, claiming Android infringes on Oracle’s Java code. From the filed suit:

The Android operating system software “stack” consists of Java applications running on a Java-based object-oriented application framework, and core libraries running on a “Dalvik” virtual machine (VM) that features just-in-time (JIT) compilation.

It could be RIM is licensing Java and a VM from Oracle in order to get Android applications on the PlayBook through the “app player”, but if not, Oracle’s lawyers just gained a new target.

  1. If RIM is requiring that Android apps must be repackaged (and resigned) to run on a Playbook, then from the user’s point of view, you can’t just run Android apps and it’s no longer “Android compatible”, even if its not a big deal from the developer’s POV.

    If RIM is continuing with the J2ME support, then they already are using Java VM technology, adding a Dalvik VM shouldn’t add any new liabilities.

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