UPDATED: When Research in Motion first announced it would support Android apps on its PlayBook tablet through an Android App Player, it looked like a good way to broaden the app selection on the tablet. But it’s become increasingly clear that limitations on porting over Android apps will ensure the Android App Player will have less appeal to both Android developers and PlayBook users. In another significant deterrent for developers, Android apps on the PlayBook will not be able to support mobile advertising at launch, a RIM representative said. UPDATE: RIM responded more than two hours after the publication of this story and said it will support ad services that are built into Android apps, but there will not be support for BlackBerry ad services for those apps with the launch of the App Player.
What that means is that Android developers who make free apps will have even less incentive to bring their apps to the PlayBook through the Android App Player, a runtime for Android apps. RIM last year already said that Android apps would also not be able to support in-app purchases when App Player becomes available with PlayBook 2.0 later this month. But
without with limited mobile advertising, now the two main ways for developers to monetize their free apps are not available for Android apps on PlayBook, at least at launch. Jeff Gadway, RIM’s Senior Brand & Marketing Communication told me earlier this week those capabilities may be added later. I’ve asked a few times for more clarification about the limitations on Android apps and RIM has not responded. The lack of mobile ads goes With limited support for mobile ads along with other limitations on Android apps such as no support for live wallpapers, SIP and SIP VoIP, app widgets and any app built with Android’s Native Development Kit. The lack of monetization tools is especially important for Android developers, who end up developing more free apps than their iOS counterparts. They can still make paid apps available through Android’s App World app store but increasingly the trend is toward freemium apps that up sell users on virtual currency, goods and extra features.
RIM appears to understand that Android apps will have limited impact for the PlayBook. Gadway told me the company isn’t looking to Android apps to be a huge boost for the PlayBook.
“While Android is important to fill out the long tail of apps, the focus is on building out native and HTML5 apps,” he said.
RIM has actually seen a recent uptick in developer interest. Alec Saunders, RIM’s head of Developer Relations, tweeted earlier this week that 6,600 new developers have registered in 11 days. But that followed RIM’s offer of a free PlayBook to Android developers, which it has extended to March 2.
The limitations raise questions about how many Android developers will invest the time to repackage their apps to work on the PlayBook. With a small installed base for the PlayBook and
no freemium means to make money and no RIM-backed mobile ads, it may not be worth it for many developers, who face the additional hurdle of getting their apps approved by RIM. PlayBooks are starting to sell more thanks to big price cuts but it’s trailing the iPad, Kindle Fire and other Android tablets in mindshare.
This is another example of RIM failing to meet the expectations it sets for itself. The PlayBook was supposed to be a viable tablet competitor but it was unloved, in large part because the first iteration didn’t include critical features such as native email. The company previously promised an update to 2.0 last year but then had to push it back to this month. And the hope for consumers was that Android apps would make their PlayBooks more attractive and versatile by giving them access to a wider number of apps. But RIM is not saying how many Android apps it will have at launch and I wouldn’t be surprised if the number is ultimately pretty modest.
RIM can still make a go of it in the tablet market with the PlayBook, but the cards are stacked against it. The improvements in 2.0, including full messaging, contacts and calendar support and an updated BlackBerry App World, are nice and make the tablet more attractive to both consumers and enterprise customers but it’s playing catch up in a lot of ways. The PlayBook is getting more big name apps such as Cut the Rope and Plants vs. Zombies. But to meet the promise of the PlayBook, it will need to get a lot more apps and it seems like it can’t expect a big boost from Android developers.