RIM Looking to Add Android App Support to PlayBook Tablet

RIM BlackBerry PlayBook tablet computer, to launch Q1 2011.

The Waterloo-based maker of the popular BlackBerry smartphone, Research In Motion (RIM) Ltd, is working on adding functionality in its yet-to-be-released BlackBerry PlayBook tablet computer that would give the new tablet the capability to run third party applications designed for Google Android devices.

RIM has seen market share trend downwards as consumers (and traditional corporate customers) have shifted to other mobile platforms that offer a superior user experience (like more applications and better Internet browsing) all with comparable communication features.

 Apple currently holds about 78-percent market share (compared to more than 90-percent a quarter ago) of the tablet computer market, a statistic competitors like Google and RIM hope to decrease.

Last month, Google unveiled its new open-source Android “Honeycomb” 3.0 tablet centric operating system that introduces a number of new features, including a completely new user interface that uses fragments and widgets that a user could customize onto their desktop. Other features include a new 3D graphics engine, native video chat through Google Talk, Adobe Flash support, among many other features.

As consumers demand devices that include more third-party applications, RIM must lessen the app gap with its new PlayBook tablet if the company wants the important consumer segment to adopt the new tablet over other devices.

Apple’s iOS-powered iPad already has over 60,000 applications designed specifically for it, on top of an additional 300,000+ iPhone apps that it also supports.

In an attempt to get more developers to build applications for the PlayBook, RIM recently extended a promotion that offered a free PlayBook tablet to people who got their applications approved into BlackBerry App World by the PlayBook launch date.

According to people familiar with the matter at the company’s Waterloo headquarters who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans were not made public: to increase the number of applications available on the PlayBook, RIM is evaluating the addition of a new Java virtual machine to its QNX operating system that would have the capability to run Android 2.x applications in a VM environment.

RIM declined to comment.

Google currently uses the Dalvik Java Virtual Machine on Android devices, a technology that has brought legal action against Google by Oracle, the same company that acquired Java related intellectual property when it acquired Sun Microsystems for $7.4-billion ($5.6 net of debt).

Evidence suggests/doesn’t suggest that Google allegedly infringed on Oracle patents by using proprietary Javascript code in Android source files that were marked by Sun Microsystems.

Sources tell the B2P that RIM is developing an in-house hybrid virtual machine that would be sufficiently different from the Dalvik VM to avoid any legal patent challenges from Oracle.

In one of the more recent patent infringement cases against RIM, the company was found to infringe on mobile e-mail NTP Inc. held patents, and settled for $612.5-million, one of the biggest settlements in the technology sector.

Having applications run in a VM environment could raise app stability concerns, even more so on a mobile, but having more applications available at the launch date could entice consumers to buy the PlayBook, which is also coupled with advanced secure messaging features already found in BlackBerry smartphones.

It is unclear at this time if a sufficiently different VM could be developed in time for the PlayBook launch, nor is there any information on how well apps would run, nor if Android version 3.x apps would also be supported.

RIM executives have confirmed the BlackBerry PlayBook would launch some time in the first quarter of 2011, although an end of March launch date is more likely.

The RIM stock has gained about 37-percent since late August 2010 as investors have become more confident that the company could develop a viable competitor to Apple’s iPad.

The RIM stock (TSE:RIM) is trading marginally down at $64.73 per share  in mid-day trading, after closing down about 15 basis points in yesterday’s trading session to $64.85 per share.

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Ramy holds a Bachelor in Health Studies with honors in Health Management from York University in Toronto, Canada. He just returned to Toronto following a career opportunity teaching English in South Korea. Write to [email protected]
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