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Hackers jimmy Android Marketplace onto PlayBooks

RIM App Planet bypass blow

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Hackers have managed to get Google's Android Marketplace running on the RIM PlayBook, potentially bypassing RIM's App Planet though the mod is far from mainstream.

The hack follows the successful rooting of the PlayBook, but isn't for the fainthearted. The process involves installing a beta version of the OS formerly known as BBX and getting one's hands dirty with a shell prompt, but once completed one can install applications from the Android Marketplace without having to wait for RIM's approval or a PlayBook-specific version.

Twitter user neuraloc has posted text instructions, but for those who prefer incidental music to accompany their hacking there's a YouTube video stepping through the process here.

The PlayBook's QNX OS, in common with most modern mobile operating systems, will only run applications that are digitally signed by the vendor. The next version of the OS (currently in beta) can execute applications written for Google's Android OS as long as they are signed (and thus distributed) by RIM.

Installing the Marketplace installs another certification authority - Google - so applications can be installed without recourse to RIM, which is good if you want to run lots of cheap applications but bad if you want to control the distribution mechanisms for the purposes of quality and revenue generation.

RIM needs the Android App Player, as the company calls its emulator, as an important leg-up in filling out the application store for its new OS. Mobile users only really want a handful of the most popular apps, so if RIM can sign the Android versions of those apps then it can claim to have a populated store while trying to build up enough market share to attract native developers. So the Android App Player is only intended to be an intermediate step - the aim is native applications solely distributed through the RIM store.

That means RIM will probably make the process harder before the official launch of the new OS. Until we know how well Android apps run on that version we can't tell if we'd ever want to install the Marketplace - it's likely emulated Android will run slower, and from the video demonstrations it seems that Android apps won't benefit from the PlayBook's elegant multitasking system, but until it's released we won't know for sure.

Getting the Marketplace installed is an impressive technical hack, but one which will probably have limited impact on the PlayBook. Unless RIM does an HP and abandons its unpopular tablet, in which case we'll all have to get our hands dirty with a bit of SSH. ®

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