RIM dropped a bomb on the press last week with the announcement that the BlackBerry PlayBook will be able to run ported Android apps. It has been really fun to see how the press and analysts are responding to the announcement. Even RIM admits that the reason they opened the door for Android application emulation on the PlayBook is to appease the haters who keep harping about what Jim Balsillie calls “Application Tonnage.” Essentially the race to higher numbers of “apps.”
The sad part is these haters have not skipped a beat and are already complaining about the “Android Support” not being ideal. Here is the new list of complaints:
- The BlackBerry PlayBook will only support Android 2.3 apps and not the newer tablet designed Android 3.0 HoneyComb apps!
- This Android support will be done through a virtualization layer and may result in slower apps
- It will be so complicated for developers to port their apps that they just wont! You can’t get the Android Marketplace.
- Developers will simply create apps for Android and not for the BlackBerry PlayBook
First of all I have to commend RIM for changing the conversation here. At first the complaints were all about there not being enough apps for the PlayBook to compete with the more established iPad. Now RIM has performed a “Jedi Mind Trick” and the conversation is all about the Android support. It gets even better when you consider that this feature is unnecessary but it managed to get EVERYBODY talking about the BlackBerry PlayBook. Kudos RIM. So back to the complaints:
The BlackBerry PlayBook is “old Skool” it will only support Android 2.3 apps not 3.0 HoneyComb?
This one is a pretty easy answer if you just stopped and thought about it for a second. Google has released the source code for Android 2.3 which means RIM can build an emulator based on that code. Google currently refuses to release the source code for the tablet optimized Android 3.0 HoneyComb due to the fact that it would lead to a “bad user experience” since they “took a bunch of shortcuts” to release it. In other words Android 3.0 is half-baked currently and Google rushed it out the door to compete. My guess is once Google releases the source code RIM could just as easily decide to upgrade the virtualization layer. Right now they cannot promise support for Android 3.0 OS apps because Google can’t even promise it.
But, but, dude the Android apps might run slower on the BlackBerry PlayBook since it is “Virtualized”?
Ah so now we come down to the real meat and bones. What most people don’t understand is that most of the resource intensive Android apps (think games) will NOT be portable to the BlackBerry PlayBook. This is because games like Angry Birds are created with the Android NDK (native development kit) which is not what RIM is porting. The thing is most “Apps” are not resource intensive. Most of the “Apps” users are clamoring for are simply dumb-ed down website experiences where slower performance is mostly irrelevant. Don’t get me wrong there may be some apps that are trying to compute “Pi” to the thousandth decimal point but most of them simply search for restaurants near you, movie reviews, and such. If you have ever used virtualization software like VMware or Parallels just consider of the speed difference in browsing the web on the main machine or the virtual guest machine. Irrelevant right?
Android developers will have to “port” their apps since RIM will not have access to the Android Marketplace! Developers are lazy!
I realize the stereotype exists that developers are smoking mary jane in a basement somewhere worshiping Apple and his holiness Steve Jobs. The fact of the matter is there are more than enough developers to go around. RIM has really taken the shotgun approach to offering environments to as many developers as possible. They have announced or released SDK’s for Flash/AIR, WebWorks, C/C++, Java, and Android Java.
With the Android Player support RIM is appealing to the lowest common denominator. They are saying simply take your already developed Android app, code sign it, put it on App World and suddenly you have a whole new revenue stream. RIM did something similar when they first decided to support J2ME Java apps years ago on their smartphones. While I admit many developers might not be bothered RIM is not targeting those developers. They are offering Android developers a way to test the PlayBook waters without having to create a whole new app from the get go. If the strategy works, only time will tell. But it has yet to be done in the Tablet space to give RIM some credit.
If RIM allows developers to port Android apps won’t developers just stick to Android?
Now this is a solid question. I am not sure what will happen but RIM actually has a good thing going with the Android support. They suddenly have thousands of Android developers talking about the BlackBerry PlayBook as a possible platform. Don’t believe me? Look at all the Android blogs covering the news and the forum threads on it. I cannot answer how RIM will design the virtualization environment to allow for native and Android apps side by side. I give RIM the benefit of the doubt that they will find a way and will leave it at that until we learn more.
In conclusion I think RIM has done a brilliant job of changing the conversation for analysts and the press. They also managed to get tons of coverage for supporting a virtualization layer after launch. In other words this was hopefully a smart move on RIM Marketing’s part to change the conversation from the “lack of apps” to “BlackBerry running Android? WTF?”
Share your thoughts in the comments…