Research In Motion could be planning ways for Android applications to run on its BlackBerry devices, according to online rumors. If proven true, that would give BlackBerry users access to hundreds of thousands of applications. However, such a strategy could also confuse developers interested in building for RIM's proprietary platform.
"The company has publicly stated that it is looking at getting a Java virtual machine running on the PlayBook-not so much for app development going forward, but for legacy support, custom apps corporations have deployed and don't want to recreate, etc.," the blog Boy Genius Report posted Jan. 26. "We have been told RIM is very much considering the Dalvik virtual machine, and we ultimately expect the company to choose Dalvik."
The Dalvik virtual machine is an essential component in running Android applications, and its presence on RIM's software platforms would mean support for those applications-at least in theory, with lots of inevitable coding and corporate concerns.
If RIM is considering such a decisive move, it seems in little mood to share the news. "It's RIM standard policy not to comment on rumors and speculation," a RIM spokesperson told eWEEK Jan. 26.
Should it come to pass, such a move could affect whether developers, especially smaller ones pressed for time and funds, choose to develop for RIM's proprietary operating systems over Android. In a recent survey of 2,235 Appcelerator Titanium developers by Appcelerator and IDC, some 28 percent reported being "very interested" in developing for the PlayBook platform, a rise of 16 percent from September 2010.
By comparison, interest in developing for the iPad rose from 84 percent to 87 percent during the same period, according to the survey, and interest in Android tablets bumped up from 62 percent to 74 percent. That places both platforms well ahead of RIM in overall survey share, with all three platforms handily beating the as-yet-unseen Palm webOS tablets at 16 percent "very interested."
Consulting firm Deloitte recently estimated tablet shipments in 2011 at 50 million units, ahead of research firm IDC's predictions of 44.6 million units for the year. "Although some commentators view tablets as underpowered media-consumption toys suitable only for consumers," Deloitte recently wrote in its annual sector forecast, "in 2011, more than 25 percent of all tablet computers will be bought by enterprises, and that figure is likely to rise in 2012 and beyond."
RIM's development environment permits the publishing of applications to a BlackBerry without developers needing to write any native code. In addition, those same developers can use the Adobe AIR software-development kit and have a local runtime on a BlackBerry smartphone. Jim Balsillie, RIM co-CEO, has insisted that the company's developer stance, along with its support of Adobe Flash, remain crucial competitive differentiators in the fight against Apple.
"We believe that you can bring the mobile to the Web, but you don't need to go through some kind of control point of an SDK, and that's the core part of our message," Balsillie told an audience Nov. 16 at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, referring to Apple's "walled garden" ecosystem.
If RIM does choose to embrace Android applications, that would put the company's extended application library closer to par with that of Apple's App Store, which also boasts hundreds of thousands of applications.