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RIM’s new BlackBerry PlayBook, phones put Android apps into play

by Howard Wolinsky

Research In Motion (RIMM) and its BlackBerrys have experienced loss of market share to smartphones on Android from Google (GOOG) as well as iPhones from Apple (AAPL).

Now RIM said it plans to plant one foot in the Android world, confirming rumors in recent months that its BlackBerry PlayBook tab will be Android friendly, reported Marty Gabel in Appolicious Thursday. The BlackBerry PlayBook is scheduled to launch in the U.S. and Canada on April 19.

The Waterloo, Ontario, company has informed developers that BlackBerry PlayBook tablet and new QNX-based BlackBerry smartphones moving forward will support Android as well as Java apps.

Analysts are saying move will boost PlayBook’s chances of winning over consumers and developers in the tab world Apple created a year ago with the launch of the iPad.

Ryan Paul at Ars Technica said, “The move will open up the PlayBook to a broader ecosystem of existing software at launch, which could help to make the product more desirable.”

Noting the PlayBook will be the first tab running an original operating system, George Wong at Ubergizmo said: “This piece of news should alleviate any fears of the tablet having no apps at launch.”

RIM will launch two optional “app players” for BlackBerry Java apps and Android v2.3 apps. These new app players will enable users to download BlackBerry Java apps and Android apps from BlackBerry App World and run them on their BlackBerry PlayBook. The Android app player doesn't support apps built specifically for Google's Honeycomb tablet platform.

RIM said developers simply will repackage and submit their BlackBerry Java and Android apps to BlackBerry App World. Once approved, the apps will be distributed through BlackBerry App World.

Kevin Tofel said at GigOm said this should be a good quality control move compared with the Wild West at Android Market.

He said, “By controlling which apps are available, BlackBerry PlayBook owners ought to get higher quality app selections for their device, which is different from the overall Android Market experience. This development could also help programmers who create apps for the Android platform. If RIM’s PlayBook is a success, it could boost Android app sales and create additional revenues as a result

The new app players for the BlackBerry PlayBook are expected to be available from BlackBerry App World this summer.

But is RIM’s Android strategy all for show?

Don Frommer at Business Insider maintained RIM is not all-in on Android. He quotes RIM Co-CEO Jim Balsillie as saying “Android support is there to check off the ‘tonnage of apps’ box -- so that RIM can say that tens of thousands of Android apps are compatible with their devices, for people who get excited about those things.”

Balsillie added: “Do I think the tonnage is overplayed? Yes. But if you think it's about having a couple hundred thousand apps, there you go.”

Is RIM playing a risky game with app developers by watering down its playbook for PlayBook with apps available elsewhere?

Paul said: “RIM also runs the risk of undermining incentives for developers to create dedicated PlayBook applications by making it so easy for them to port their existing software from other platforms.”