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Research In Motion (RIM) on Friday announced plans to greatly expand the application ecosystem for the BlackBerry PlayBook. In particular, the tablet from RIM will support BlackBerry Java and Android apps. In addition, developers will get a number of new tools to design programs for the Blackberry slate.

RIM will launch two optional “app players” that provide an application run-time environment for BlackBerry Java apps and Android v2.3 apps. These new app players will allow users to download BlackBerry Java apps and Android apps from BlackBerry App World and run them on their BlackBerry PlayBook.

The PlayBook tablet itself is based on QNX software technology which RIM acquired last year. Just like Google Android, QNX utilizes the common POSIX [portable operating system interface for unix] standard that defines application programming interfaces, utilities interfaces, shells and other technologies. Technologically, it should be relatively easy to allow Android applications to run on QNX.

While the RIM BlackBerry platform for business and enterprise users is successful on its target markets, more and more are looking forward more advanced features, applications and other benefits from their smartphones. As a result, many users of BlackBerry are turning their heads towards Apple iPhone or Google Android platforms, which have better support from software developers.  In case RIM manages to make apps for Android work flawlessly on its Playbook tablet and eventually on at least some smartphones, it may gain a substantial advantage over all the other mobile platform holders. Potentially, the effort may wed ultimate security and best-in-class messaging capabilities of Blackberry with broad set of software designed for various phones and demanded by mass customers.

In addition, RIM will release the native SDK for the BlackBerry PlayBook enabling C/C++ application development on the BlackBerry Tablet OS. For game-specific developers, RIM is also announcing that it has gained support from two leading game development tooling companies, allowing developers to use the cross-platform game engines from Ideaworks Labs and Unity Technologies to bring their games to the BlackBerry PlayBook.

Developers currently building for the BlackBerry or Android platforms will be able to quickly and easily port their apps to run on the BlackBerry Tablet OS thanks to a high degree of API compatibility.  The new optional app players will be available for download from BlackBerry App World and will be placed in a secure “sandbox” on the BlackBerry PlayBook where the BlackBerry Java or Android apps can be run. Developers will simply repackage, code sign and submit their BlackBerry Java and Android apps to BlackBerry App World. Once approved, the apps will be distributed through BlackBerry App World, providing a new opportunity for many developers to reach BlackBerry PlayBook users. 

“The upcoming addition of BlackBerry Java and Android apps for the BlackBerry PlayBook on BlackBerry App World will provide our users with an even greater choice of apps and will also showcase the versatility of the platform," said Mike Lazaridis, president and co-CEO at Research In Motion.

BlackBerry PlayBook is based on a dual-core ARM microprocessor and features 1GB of memory, an unknown amount of flash storage, dual HD cameras (5MP rear facing and 3MB front facing), Wi-Fi - 802.11 a/b/g/n (3G and 4G models to be available in the future), Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, microHDMI as well as microUSB connectors and so on. The product fully supports MP3, full-HD video playback (1080p, H.264, MPEG, DivX, WMV) as well as WebKit/HTML-5, Adobe Flash Player 10.1, Adobe Mobile AIR, Adobe Reader, POSIX, OpenGL, Java. The slate features 7" screen with 1024x600 resolution and weighs less than a pound (400g).

The BlackBerry PlayBook with Wi-Fi will come in three models, featuring 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of storage at $499, $599 and $699 respectively.  It is scheduled to be available from all Best Buy stores and Best Buy Mobile stores in the U.S., as well as Best Buy and Future Shop stores in Canada, on April 19.

Tags: Blackberry, RIM, PlayBook

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