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Video: Virtualization Brings Android Apps to Non-Android Phones

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The intriguing idea of running Google Android (s goog) applications on non-Android phones is about to become a reality, courtesy of Myriad, a Zürich-based mobile application software company. At next week’s Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona,the company will demonstrate its Alien Dalvik virtual machine solution, which enables phones running other mobile operating systems to use Android software. The approach could help consumers that own devices with limited application availability, but may also help Android developers and carriers widen their audience while boosting revenues.

How could a non-Android device actually run software made specifically for Google’s Android platform? It sounds like a stretch, but in reality, all apps that run on Android phones or tablets run in a virtual machine (VM), which Google calls Dalvik. The solution is much like the Java Virtual Machine on a desktop: it’s a constrained software implementation of a computer where software code runs. That brings greater security as apps in a VM are essentially walled off from other applications and the device operating system. And if the app in a VM crashes, there’s no effect on other applications or the operating system, which brings stability. This video demo of Myriad’s solution on a Nokia N900 running MeeGo shows an equal level of performance with the same app running on a comparable Android device.

Myriad’s Alien Dalvik then is a VM that supports Android applications, just like Google’s Dalvik VM, but one that can run on other devices. The company says that its first supported devices will run on Nokia’s MeeGo devices, which are also likely to be introduced next week, although actual MeeGo devices aren’t likely to ship yet for some time. MeeGo is probably a target for Myriad due to its Linux underpinnings: Android too, is based on Linux, so there’s a bit of a common denominator. Palm’s webOS (s hpq) is another Linux-based system, and given the relative lack of applications when compared to other popular platforms, could be a smart future target for Myriad.

Although similarity to Google’s Dalvik VM is clearly a positive, there’s potentially a negative aspect as well. Last October, Oracle sued Google over the Dalvik VM, claiming that Google’s implementation uses code stolen from Sun’s Java VM. Oracle purchased Sun Microsystems for $4.7 billion in 2009, gaining Sun’s Java virtualization technology and code. The suit is ongoing and there’s no indication at this early juncture on if Myriad’s VM uses any code without proper licensing or permission from Oracle (s orcl).

If the Alien Dalvik solution delivers as advertised in the video demo — and there’s no fallout from the Oracle complaint — it could open up Google’s Android Market ecosystem to a far wider range of consumers that use other smartphones, or even higher-end feature phones. Contrast that to Apple’s (A AAPL) iTunes App Store, which although is the largest platform store for software, is completely limited to Apple iOS devices. Android software running on more platforms could gain greater developer interest in building Android applications, as a result. And carriers that adopt Myriad’s VM on non-Android devices gain a competitive advantage over peers that don’t.

Again, the proof will be in the pudding as they say: Myriad’s Alien Dalvik will have to deliver performance if this will be a viable way to get Android apps on other platforms. But if Myriad does deliver, it’s a potential win for consumers, developers and carriers alike, and another reason that Android’s general growth trajectory will keep on rising.

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7 Responses to “Video: Virtualization Brings Android Apps to Non-Android Phones”

  1. Lucian Armasu

    I didn’t think much of Google’s decision to use a VM when they first launched Android, considering it offered a lot of disadvantages in the beginning, like slow performance, and very little advantages like not having to port to a new chip architecture a decade or two from now (similar to how Microsoft has to do now).

    Also, I’ve never thought that being able to work on x86 was an advantage, because I think ARM is the architecture of the next decade anyway, and x86 is already completely irrelevant in the mobile market, so why even bother being compatible with it?

    But only now, with this news, I realize the genius behind this idea. Nokia, RIM, and others who will use Alien Dalvik to get Android apps, are going to help the Android ecosystem grow much faster.

  2. It looks like this is a way for Nokia to get more apps on their MeeGo devices without having to create them all from scratch. They had earlier talked about a joining of Maemo and Android at some time down the line before MeeGo came into existence and perhaps this is the way to go. It is interesting that a tight integration between Qt SDK and Android SDK is done and that the Qt MeeGo APIs are being hidden now by Nokia so perhaps they are making changes to that which will give better support to Android. In any case, the CTO of Myriad has a lot of experience with Qt and Nokia and their cross-platform strategy so maybe it will also work on the upcoming dual-core Symbian phones.

  3. I’be been waiting to see this. I’m curious if WebOS will take advantage of it, stupid not to. Hopefully we will hear something tomorrow.

    I don’t think this really opens Google’s Android Market to other devices. From what I’ve read there needs to be a few changes in the app to ensure it will run properly with Alien Dalvik, thus it won’t be the exact same app as in the Market; therefore, it may be the case that devs will have to port over to the other markets, which will be easy enough however, that doesn’t benefit the Android Market, just developers.

    Or an intelligent market may take into account these changes and specify which app to download.

    • Great point that it may not be seamless. I wonder though: if there’s not too much work involved, might Google see enough benefit to spread the Market to more phones and invest a little effort into making this work intelligently as you suggest?

      • From what I understand only one file needs to be changed to work with Alien Dalvik; however, the big question is will “Google see enough benefit to spread the Market to more phones. . .”

        They certainly didn’t want tablets getting to the app market too easily and I don’t know if they see enough revenue in the app market to open it to other devices. . . HOWEVER, I’m sure smart devs will find a work around if they don’t.

        I don’t think it would be much of an issue for Google. I think their big issue comes into play when an OS is walled in and their ad network can’t get in.

        Nonetheless, I do think it’s good news all around for Android apps.

        • “They certainly didn’t want tablets getting to the app market too easily and I don’t know if they see enough revenue in the app market to open it to other devices”

          I think it’s all about the ads, so really, with in-ad revenue potential, Google has nothing to lose by an expanding Market on non-Android devices. Just my $0.02… but it’s a win-win for Google as far as I can tell.