RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook will run Android apps later this year after a software update. That much we do know. Now, Bloomberg reports that all QNX-based BlackBerry smartphones will run Android apps as well. Is it time for RIM to throw in the towel and build BlackBerries using the Android OS?
That's a tough call. According to Bloomberg's Android sources, the "Android app player" (basically an emulator) that allows Android apps to run inside QNX-based devices such as the PlayBook is being reworked to fit on smaller QNX-based BlackBerry smartphones.
The reason for having Android apps on BlackBerry devices is to address the platform's puny selection of apps in RIM's "App World" app store, a platform that developers have been hesitant to create apps for. None of which is a surprise given BlackBerry's shrinking marketshare when compared to iOS or Android.
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So the question therefore is, if a BlackBerry runs Android apps, is it a BlackBerry or an Android device? RIM will tell you it's both. QNX-based BB smartphones will have the security and enterprise features like BBM and BB email, but will finally be able to get in on the entertainment segment via Android apps.
It remains to be seen if such a dual-mode strategy will work or compromise the image of BlackBerry, but it looks promising — if Android app emulation is as smooth as RIM says it is.
RIM's in a tight spot. As its marketshare is eroded by Android and iOS, it needs to make a decision: push forward with a platform nobody really seems to care about or choose another OS and become a hardware maker only. It was extremely hard for Nokia to ditch its Symbian and MeeGo platforms for Windows Phone 7, and the fruits of that deal have yet to materialize, but perhaps RIM needs to ditch its own in-house OSes and adopt Android.
Admitting it needs Android's help is like dipping its toes into the Google pond. We'll know for sure how serious RIM is about Android in 2012 when its new QNX-based BBs hit the street. Everything really rides on how well BlackBerries sell next year. If things take a turn for the worse, it might be in RIM's cards to invest in Android more heavily.