PlayBook uses Google's code for Android apps

RIM will soon update the BlackBerry PlayBook with components necessary to run Android applications. We speak to RIM's CTO of software about how this was achieved and when to expect the Android Player.

Joseph Hanlon Special to CNET News
Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies.
Joseph Hanlon
2 min read

The quantity and quality of apps associated with any mobile platform is central to its success or failure. Research In Motion is moving to the front foot with its BlackBerry Tablet OS for PlayBook by allowing Android developers the ability to easily convert and digitally sign their apps and then publish them on the BlackBerry App World. But how does it work exactly?

Firstly, Android developers will need to submit their apps to RIM for approval, so there won't be any free-for-all app ripping on RIM's behalf. The apps will be displayed on the BlackBerry App World and will look like any other native PlayBook application, but will be executed in an Android Player on the tablet.

RIM's CTO for Software David Yach explained that this isn't an Android emulator as many had suspected it would be, but is a service built out of Google's own code.

"It's the Android open-source components running on top of QNX, with the PlayBook and QNX security model wrapped around it. Because Linux and QNX are both POSIX based, moving [apps] over, while there was work involved, wasn't a herculean effort."

The emulator rumour had suggested to many pundits that the PlayBook would struggle to execute Android apps without a dip in performance, but the team at RIM believes the opposite will be true.

"As it turns out, Android is based on an architectural model with a lot of individual components ... and QNX has highly optimised communications paths, so that performance shows," said Yach. "The question should be how much is it going to speed [Android apps] up."

The PlayBook running the IMDB app. (Credit: CBSi)

We saw this for ourselves during the BlackBerry World keynote demonstration. On stage a PlayBook was used to run the latest version of the IMDB app for Android, where the tablet delivered pages of images hosted by IMDB in moments. This was a nice demonstration, but it still leaves us wondering whether the Android player is capable of handling some of the great new 3D games hitting the Android Market.

The other, more pressing, question is when this new feature will be delivered to PlayBook end users. Yach told us that the update would be delivered sometime "this summer", giving RIM a window from now until the end of August to keep this promise.