RIM Said to Plan PlayBook Software to Run Google Apps

RIM Said to Plan PlayBook Software to Run Google’s Android
The Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) BlackBerry PlayBook tablet computer. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Research In Motion Ltd., preparing to start sales of its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, is working on software to allow the device to run applications for Google Inc.’s Android, three people familiar with the matter said.

RIM plans to integrate the technology with the PlayBook operating system, giving customers access to Android’s more than 130,000 apps, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the effort isn’t public. RIM, after looking outside the company, is developing the software internally and may have it ready in the second half, two people said.

The Waterloo, Ontario-based company aims to make the PlayBook stand out against Apple Inc.’s iPad and a rising number of competing devices. By offering a tablet with the security and messaging of BlackBerry smartphones and the wide choice of Android apps, RIM may be able to woo customers who would otherwise opt for alternative devices, said Tero Kuittinen, an analyst with MKM Partners LLC.

“This is very exciting,” said Greenwich, Connecticut-based Kuittinen, who has a “buy” rating on RIM and doesn’t own the shares. “This gives an extra boost to the PlayBook.”

The feature could push up sales of the PlayBook by 30 percent to 50 percent, said Kuittinen. He said he is considering raising his estimates for PlayBooks to be sold this year to more than 4 million units from 3 million.

Marisa Conway, a spokeswoman for RIM, declined to comment. RIM has said it plans to introduce its tablet in the U.S. in the first quarter and then overseas.

RIM fell 1 cent to $66.87 at 4 p.m. New York time in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. RIM fell 14 percent last year as Apple climbed 53 percent and Google declined 4.2 percent.

Android Rising

Android tablets captured 22 percent of global shipments in the three months to Dec. 31, a tenfold jump from a year earlier, according to Boston-based Strategy Analytics. That narrowed Apple’s share of the tablet market to 75 percent from about 95 percent three months earlier.

There are about six times as many apps available from Google’s Android Market as the 20,000 in RIM’s App World. The selection has helped companies that make Android devices, including Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Android became the world’s top smartphone platform, researcher Canalys said last month.

“It will be a shrewd move to let Android apps run RIM without any performance or user interface hiccups,” Chetan Sharma, an independent wireless analyst in Issaquah, Washington, said in an interview. “It will make the RIM platform attractive to consumers as it lacks the strength of the rivals from an apps perspective.”

No Dalvik

PlayBook sales may reach $1.1 billion, or 4.8 percent of the $22.8 billion in revenue analysts predict for RIM in its next fiscal year that begins in March. The calculation is based on the median of 17 estimates in a December Bloomberg survey for RIM to sell 2.55 million tablets at an average price of $430.

RIM had considered using Google’s Dalvik, the Java software used in running Android apps, and decided against it for reasons including an ongoing patent dispute between Oracle Corp. and Google over the software, two people said.

Oracle gained the Java programming language as part of its $7.3 billion purchase of Sun Microsystems Inc. last year. Developed by Sun in the mid-1990s, Java lets developers write programs that work across different operating systems and on a variety of computers.

Katie Barron, an Oracle spokeswoman, and Shari Doherty, a Google spokeswoman, didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.

Looking for Sales

RIM is looking to the PlayBook to boost revenue as its share of the global smartphone market drops. BlackBerry represented 14.4 percent of the market in the fourth quarter, down from 20 percent a year ago, according to Canalys.

RIM is building its tablet on QNX, software bought as part of a $200 million acquisition from Harman International Industries Inc. in April. QNX will give the PlayBook more reliability than rival operating systems built for smartphones and adapted for tablet devices, RIM co-Chief Executive Officer Jim Balsillie has said.

Opting for QNX also put the PlayBook a step closer to Android as they share the common Posix standard, said Peter Misek, an analyst with Jefferies & Co. in New York.

Wade Beavers, who runs mobile application developer DoApps Inc. in Minneapolis, said he would welcome an easier way to sell software to RIM customers. He used to make apps for BlackBerry smartphone users and now focuses on Apple and Android devices.

“It was too much headache for too little return,” he said in an interview.

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