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Putting Android Apps on Non-Android Phones

The intriguing idea of running Google Android applications on non-Android phones is about to become a reality, courtesy of Myriad, a Zürich-based mobile applications software company. At next week's Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, the company will demonstrate its Alien Dalvik virtual machine solution, which enables phones running other mobile operating systems to use Android software. The approach could be useful to consumers who own devices for which applications are limited, as well as help Android developers and carriers widen their audiences and boost revenues.

How could a non-Android device run software made specifically for Google's Android platform? It sounds like a stretch. In reality, all apps that run on Android phones or tablets run in a virtual machine (VM), which Google calls Dalvik. The solution is much like the Java Virtual Machine on a desktop: it's a constrained software implementation of a computer via software code. It brings greater security because apps in a VM are essentially walled off from other applications and from the device's operating system. When the app in a VM crashes, it has no effect on other applications or on the operating system, ensuring stability. This video demo of Myriad's solution on a Nokia N900 running MeeGo shows that it performs on a level equal to that of the same app running on a comparable Android device.

Myriad's Alien Dalvik is a VM that supports Android applications, just like Google's Dalvik VM does, but it's one that can run on other devices. The company says that its first supported iteration will run on Nokia's MeeGo devices, which are also likely to be introduced next week—although they aren't likely to ship for some time. Myriad has probably targeted MeeGo for its Linux underpinnings: Android too, is based on Linux, making for a bit of a common denominator. Palm's webOS is another Linux-based system; given the relative lack of applications when compared to other popular platforms, webOS could be a further target for Myriad.

Shadow of Oracle-Google Litigation

Although its similarity to Google's Dalvik VM is clearly a positive, there could be a negative aspect, too. Last October, Oracle sued Google over the Dalvik VM, claiming that Google's implementation uses code stolen from Sun's Java VM. Oracle purchased Sun Microsystems for $4.7 billion in 2009, gaining its Java virtualization technology and code. The suit is active and there's no indication yet if Myriad's VM uses any disputed code or if it has sought licensing or permission from Oracle.

If the Alien Dalvik solution delivers as advertised in the video demo—and if there's no fallout from the Oracle complaint—it could open Google's Android Market ecosystem up to a far wider range of consumers who use other smartphones or even higher-end feature phones. Contrast that to Apple's iTunes App Store, which although it's the biggest platform store for software, serves only Apple iOS devices. Android software running on further platforms could draw greater developer interest in building Android applications. Carriers that adopt Myriad's VM on non-Android devices might gain a competitive advantage over peers that don't.

The proof will be in the pudding. Myriad will have to establish its Alien Dalvik as a viable way to get Android apps on other platforms. If Myriad does deliver, it could be a win for consumers, developers, and carriers alike—and could keep Android's general growth trajectory rising.

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Tofel is a writer for the GigaOm Network.

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