RIM to allow Android apps on PlayBook

New optional 'app players' will let users download Android and BlackBerry Java applications

Research In Motion announced on Thursday that users of its PlayBook tablet will be able to run Android and Java applications.

The capability will address one criticism often lodged against the PlayBook: an expected lack of applications.

"This completely takes the apps question off the table," said Chris Hazelton, an analyst with The 451 Group.

The PlayBook, which becomes available on April 19, will have two optional "app players" that will provide run-time environments for BlackBerry Java apps and Android 2.3 apps. The players will let users download BlackBerry Java Apps and Android Apps from BlackBerry App World.

The applications won't work automatically in the PlayBook app players, however. Developers will need to "quickly and easily" port their apps to run on the tablet OS, RIM said.

They will also have to repackage, code sign and submit their apps to the App World for approval.

Hazelton doesn't expect those hurdles to be too cumbersome for developers. "This is good for Android developers, who get to target another device," he said.

Because opening up the PlayBook to Android developers, who have already built 200,000 applications, will make the tablet more attractive, BlackBerry is sure to work hard to make that process easy for developers, he said. While RIM has been criticized for having a difficult developer environment, it has improved it recently and should continue to do so with this announcement, he said.

The app players will run in a "secure sandbox" on the PlayBook, RIM said. Typically software makers use sandboxing techniques to prevent hackers from gaining access to other parts of the device. Data is protected because a bug in one program doesn't give the hacker access to other programs or data on the device.

RIM has already talked about the similar way that it silos data in the PlayBook, keeping work e-mail separate from personal e-mail accounts like Gmail or Yahoo, Hazelton said. "This sounds like the same approach," he said.

RIM also said it plans to make it easier for developers to build PlayBook apps by releasing a native SDK (software development kit) for the PlayBook enabling C/C++ application development on the BlackBerry Tablet OS.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

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