Smartphones

Android apps on BlackBerry? Brilliant idea or white flag?

BlackBerry is rumored to be considering a move to support Android apps on its next generation QNX operating system. Is this an aggressive attack or a surrender. Read and then vote.

With nearly all of the momentum in the mobile world gathering around Apple and Android heading into 2011, BlackBerry has looked like it was headed for another rough year of market share losses and falling further behind in product innovation. If there was any mobile platform in desperate need of a bold move, it was BlackBerry.

Well, it looks like there could be a bold move in the works. According to a report in BGR, Research in Motion (the company behind the BlackBerry) is "seriously considering" a move in which its next-generation operating system QNX (pronounced "que-nix") would run Android apps. Remember, the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet will be running QNX and RIM has said that it will eventually use QNX on its smartphones as well.

Here is BGR reported about the possibility of Android apps:

"We have been told by multiple trusted sources that RIM is seriously considering a feature that will allow BlackBerry devices to run Android apps. Here is what we know: Research In Motion has been trying to figure out the path it wants to take as far as how the existing Java environment will work on its upcoming QNX tablet and smartphones. The company has publicly stated that it is looking at getting a Java virtual machine running on the PlayBook - not so much for app development going forward, but for legacy support, custom apps corporations have deployed and don't want to recreate, etc... We have been told RIM is very much considering the Dalvik virtual machine, and we ultimately expect the company to chose Dalvik. If that sounds familiar to you, it's because it's the same VM that the Android OS uses, and it would allow RIM's PlayBook and other QNX devices to run just about any application built for the Android platform."

This makes sense from a technical standpoint since both the legacy BlackBerry OS and Android are built on Java. Since QNX is a completely new platform based on software from a company that RIM acquired, they would have to run an emulator (virtualization) in order to be backward compatible and run existing BlackBerry applications. While they're working on that, it's not much of a stretch to also do an emulator for Android as well, since both platforms have a similar Java foundation.

Because Android is open source, RIM can use it and adapt it for whatever uses it sees fit. However, the bigger play would obviously be to partner with Google and bring the official Android Market to the BlackBerry QNX platform. It would have to co-exist alongside BlackBerry App World -- and they'd both have to be comfortable with that -- but it could give both companies something they need. BlackBerry desperately needs a better catalog of third party apps and Google needs more Android Market customers who are willing to purchase apps in order to keep developers happy.

It would seem like a coup if BlackBerry could put off something like this. If the report is true -- and it's consistent with some things I've heard about what's going on behind the scenes at RIM -- then it's nice to see this kind of boldness from RIM in trying to re-invigorate the BlackBerry platform. A BlackBerry device running QNX, a dual core processor, and the Android Market would be infinitely more appealing than anything in the current lineup of BlackBerry smartphones.

That said, this move may not be the slam dunk that so many people in the technology industry seem ready to declare. It is fraught with a number of drawbacks and challenges, including the following:

  • If RIM brings Android apps to BlackBerry, it would essentially be like waving the white flag and admitting it has lost the war for developers in the mobile world. And, if Android apps became more popular than BlackBerry apps then RIM would be handing over a huge chunk of potential revenue -- its cut of apps sales -- to Google.
  • This move would would also tether BlackBerry's fortunes to Android in some potentially uncomfortable ways. What if Google later changed its mind and decided to pull Android Market support from BlackBerry? What if developers get tired of not selling enough apps on Android and shift in larger numbers toward the more lucrative Apple App Store? At that point, RIM would wish it had gone it alone with its own app platform.
  • Integrating the Android Market and making Android apps play well on BlackBerry QNX devices will need some UI magic, and BlackBerry hasn't shown itself to be very good at UI. Maybe TAT, the UI company it recently acquired, can help.
  • Although the QNX-based PlayBook is coming to market in Q1 2011, remember that QNX smartphones are at least 9-12 months away. That's a lot of time for BlackBerry to continue to lose ground in the smartphone market, and once that trend accelerates it will be difficult to turn around.
  • Above all, a tie-up with Android would likely relegate BlackBerry to second-tier status in the mobile market. As a second-tier player, it could make a nice profit and be a niche provider, but companies that were once the alpha dog tend not to like being relegated to second-tier status and usually make increasingly less pragmatic and more desperate moves to try to recapture the old glory.

Of course, without adding the Android Market, the prospects for BlackBerry look even worse. We can't forget that either.

What do you think about the possibility of Android apps on BlackBerry devices? Answer the poll below and then jump into the discussion.

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Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

13 comments
thematxix17
thematxix17

1This move would would also tether BlackBerry???s fortunes to Android in some potentially uncomfortable ways. What if Google later changed its mind and decided to pull Android Market support from BlackBerry? [url http://bluepillsau.com]viagra[/url] What if developers get tired of not selling enough apps on Android and shift in larger numbers toward the more lucrative Apple App Store? At that point, RIM would wish it had gone it alone with its own app platform.

TWBurger
TWBurger

The QNX platform is capable of tasks (RTOS for example) Android developers would not dream of. On the other hand the PlayBook store is a barren wasteland compared to Android and some of the apps are terrible. Creating an Android virtual emulator gives PlayBook all of the apps it could want without waiting.

chrismiller76
chrismiller76

I think that's a great idea, hopefully they'll have android apps for the blackberry playbook as well

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

I think it is a good thing more than bad. Assuming the Android apps will be fully compatible, there is more to choose from. Was it a white flag when Linux developers created WINE?

Slayer_
Slayer_

It means they instantly get more available apps, while at the same time can still be recognized as the choice for business.

emitretsam
emitretsam

Blackberry is still a good reliable platform for consumers to enter into the smartphone market. They have a good value proposition with lots of affordable devices with features found in the more expensive android phone without the better user interface. More choice is a good thing and could help RIM in the long-term be a more capable supplier of Android powered devices.

Working IT
Working IT

BB may lose some revenue to Google. But BB can start charging business users for the BES instead of giving it out for free. BB + Android = Business security (BES) + User friendly (Apps)

doug.montgomery
doug.montgomery

The other angle is, how many BES customers want Android devices? The big question for RIM is do they keep the devices, BES, and the client app all bundled together, or do they allow each piece to support all the other options.

lamborr
lamborr

Sorry, but your attempt at making a Devil's Advocate article seems contrived at best. Lets go through your list of Negatives to this: 1. The "White Flag" argument doesn't really make logical sense. Perhaps in pundit world where we can try to create a narrative of some type of "war" in phone tech companies it makes sense, but this move would immediately give them an advantage entering the Tablet marketplace. I don't think some type of odd sense of pride would prevent them from MAKING MONEY. 2. Perhaps you should read up on what the rumour actually entails. The Playbook WILL already have its own platform. The use of the VM Machine is to have legacy support for current Blackberry Apps that were made for the previous OS5/6 system. The rumour is that the VM Machine could be the Dalvik which also happens to be the one that Android uses. So it's not RIM abandoning its own app platform, it's adding support for others. 3. Uh, was there something particularly bad you saw about the QNX UI that was seen on the Playbook? I could have sworn many came away impressed with how it looked and functioned. In fact, if what I'm reading is true, it's already surpassed Honeycomb because Honeycomb does the same fake multi-tasking as iPad. 4. Your point about them losing more ground has little relevance to this particular rumour. Just needed to fill space i guess? If the Playbook demonstrates that it can run Android apps, it will have gone along way in showing its current userbase that it means business. 5. I'm guessing you meant "RIM" would be relegated to second-tier status, not "Android". Again, I'm not sure how this would relegate them to a lower status by providing MORE to its consumers? I think you're again thinking that RIM is getting rid of its own App Platform and going with Android. It's simply providing legacy support for OS5/6 BB apps and if it utilizes Dalvik, then it COULD theoretically run Android apps. If they can get a Blackberry to say its "Android App Certified", then I'm not sure how you could say it's a lose for RIM. It's a win for RIM and GOOGLE, and a huge pain for Apple imo.

sinkingsand
sinkingsand

I want to keep the BES (Lotus Notes) but want the corresponding BB mail function to run on Android... if management wants to use any/all Android devices available and I don't have the mail function as an Android app then I don't need a BES. Does RIM care if they loose the BES business?

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

that BlackBerry wouldn't be giving up something by bringing in Android apps. It would certainly be gaining something -- a far bigger app catalog -- but it would also be giving up a big chunk of revenue (it's cut of app sales) and it would be potentially strengthening one of its strongest rivals.

Justin Toon
Justin Toon

If RIM adds the Android Market to its Blackberry products won't that essentially be the end of the Blackberry app market? Are there any high-profile apps exclusive to that system? Not to mention the potential for customer confusion. I know Blackberry users who aren't particularly tech-savvy -- some of them don't even know how to download an app. Now add the notion of two competing app markets on their phone. RIM has been losing ground for a while. While their products are still well-regarded among business types, they lack the "cool" factor that Apple and Android currently have, and the Blackberry app ecosystem is far behind both. Remember that they used to be the unquestioned market leader in the smartphone space. Even the potential of a gesture like this says to me that RIM lacks confidence in their product. Look at it this way -- imagine (hypothetically, of course, since hardware limitations would prevent this) if Android decided it would start emulating iOS apps. Wouldn't that be perceived as throwing up a white flag to Apple?

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