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RIM's PlayBook to run Android apps

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Research-In-Motion will square up to Apple, Google and Hewlett-Packard with a tablet that runs apps built for Google's popular Android platform.

On Thursday, RIM said it plans to deliver what it called an "app player" for its PlayBook tablet that will provide an environment capable of running Android 2.3 applications. An app player is also planned for running BlackBerry Java apps.

The environments will mean PlayBook users can download Android and BlackBerry Java apps from BlackBerry App World to run on the PlayBook, scheduled for release on April 19. Contacted by The Reg, RIM did not explain how the environments are built or will operate. Unveiling the PlayBook last fall, RIM said it was working on a "next generation" Java virtual machine.

The move is part of an effort to expand the PlayBook's application ecosystem, the company said in a statement.

The news confirmed rumors that RIM planned to support Android, but this is not support in its purest sense of the word. And it does not mean RIM will immediately leapfrog device and apps-marketplace rivals.

The PlayBook's app player won't run apps from Google's own Android Market. Instead, a RIM spokesperson told The Reg that Android apps will have to come through its own BlackBerry App World.

RIM's decision to only let Android apps download and run on the PlayBook from its own market will mean that while devs are coding for Android 2.3, they'll have to abide by RIM's rules to gain access to the market and devices.

Google's Android Market is estimated to be the second most populated apps market today, with more than 250,000 apps, coming in behind Apple's App Store, which boasts 350,000. HP's webOS app store has just 6,000 apps, and while RIM claims 20,000 apps in the BlackBerry App World, these are for existing BlackBerry devices - not the PlayBook.

To scoop up more devs, therefore, RIM is targeting gaming fiends. It said that it will release an SDK enabling application development on Tablet OS, the micro-kernel based operating system that powers the PlayBook.

RIM also announced that Ideaworks Labs and Unity Technologies will run on the PlayBook. Ideaworks makes Airplay, a C/C++ SDK for building apps on mobile. It currently runs on iOS, Android, Symbian, webOS, and Windows Mobile 6.x. Unity Technologies delivers tools and a rendering engine for building 3D games for iOS and Android.

To further attract devs, RIM also announced that the BlackBerry Tablet OS Native Development Kit (NDK) will hit open beta by the summer. It will be demonstrated at BlackBerry World between May 3 and 5 in Orlando, Florida. The NDK has been in alpha testing.

The NDK will let devs build high-performance, multi-threaded, native C/C++ applications using GNU tool chains. "Developers can create advanced 2D and 3D applications and special effects by leveraging programmable shaders available in hardware-accelerated OpenGL ES 2.0," the company said.

NDK will use the QNX POSIX library, "easily integrate" device events like gesture and touch, and integrate Tablet OS with the Eclipse C/C++ Development Tools project to work with other tools plug ins. EIM's Tablet OS is based on technology from QNX, which it acquired last year. ®

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