The intriguing idea of running Google Android 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 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.
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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