RIM PlayBook May Run Android Apps to Hook Developers

RIM's PlayBook tablet may port applications from Google's Android Market, giving consumers access to more than 130,000 software programs. The move could boost developer mindshare.

The freshest rumor about Research in Motion's PlayBook tablet computer is that the tablet will run applications developed for Google's Android operating system.

Bloomberg News cited three anonymous sources who said RIM will integrate the technology, which would give consumers access to more than 130,000 Android applications, with the QNX-based PlayBook operating system.

RIM and Google declined to comment to eWEEK, but Bloomberg said the software could be ready as soon as the second half of this year.

That's months after the company introduces the tablet to challenge Apple's iPad (and likely the expected iPad 2), Android 3.0-based tablets such as the Motorola Xoom and HP's TouchPad, among others.

The 7-inch-screen RIM PlayBook, which tethers to Blackberry smartphones, includes a 1GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM. RIM will launch the WiFi version of the PlayBook this quarter, with a 4G-enabled version coming from Sprint this summer.

Providing PlayBook users access to Google's Android Market would fill a glaring hole that analysts claimed RIM must address for the tablet to gain traction against the competition: access to a big swath of applications and content that RIM's Blackberry App World, which currently includes only 20,000 applications, lacks.

Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps told eWEEK a PlayBook bridge to the Android Market is a bigger deal for developers than consumers.

"Right now, the PlayBook ranks low on developers' list of priorities; having the PlayBook be Android-compatible makes it much more appealing for developers," Epps said.

However, she cautioned that while the PlayBook is a solid product, the tethering limitation means it won't appeal to non-BlackBerry owners. In other words, adding Android applications won't change that equation.

Enderle Group analyst Rob Enderle doesn't like the move because of the potential competition it sets up between RIM and Google, which compete in the smartphone and tablet market.

"DEC tried to emulate Intel to get Intel-based software; there have been several efforts to emulate Windows, which failed; and efforts to clone, without support, the Mac platform. All, without exception, ended badly. What's the old saying-those who fail to learn from history are destined to repeat it? I think RIM is going to demonstrate that saying with this move."

He added that RIM might be better served partnering with Amazon's Appstore, which he said doesn't have a software platform to defend the way Google does.

However, Google may welcome getting Android applications on the PlayBook, as it provides yet another pipeline for its mobile ads.