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Will Android Support Help or Hurt RIM?

With the rise of Android-powered devices, Google’s mobile operating system has enjoyed a heightened level of developer support, an essential component in creating a modern software apparatus. Research In Motion (RIM), the Canadian consumer electronics manufacturer responsible for creating BlackBerries, has struggled to gain mass market appeal, but has held on to its core audience, enterprises.

By releasing a slate with many of the security features that businesses have come to know and love, as well as a revamped, cleaner operating system, the BlackBerry PlayBook is poised to compete with the main competitors in the tablet niche. In recognizing the necessity for a noticeable developer presence at launch, RIM made the fateful decision to allow Android applications to run natively on its latest device. Is this a brilliant coalition, or will it spell doom for the company that paved the way for modern smartphone makers?

Apple’s head start in creating a formidable development platform has become extremely prevalent with the increasing number of competitors. Many of these manufacturers have embraced Google’s Android platform to give users access to the 200,000 apps currently in existence. Other companies, notably HP, have decided to circumvent development presence completely, focusing on the integration of tablets into everyday activities. RIM executives revealed an apparent lack of confidence in the latest version of the company’s operating system when deciding to allow Android applications on BlackBerry devices.

The native languages supported in app development for BlackBerry handsets are C and C++. Additionally, Flash, Java, and HTML5 are all supported on RIM’s devices, typically being used to power games. Android applications will be accommodated through a series of add-ons that will be made available through RIM’s app marketplace.

Though Android support may increase hardware sales, there is no doubt that there will be serious repercussions for RIM if they choose to follow Google’s agenda. BlackBerry OS has stepped down from its mountain of prominence already, and with the recent shift to QNX, Android support gives current Android developers no reason to uphold RIM’s platform natively.

Given the advantage of time, Apple has been given the ability to control its software platform, even with a seemingly-endless batch of developers  launching applications on the device. Though RIM has invested in controlling its developer platform, executives made the conscious decision to move away from an attached user experience. Android apps are less likely to utilize the processing power and user interface of the PlayBook, both of which have drawn significant attention from technology enthusiasts. RIM’s main challenge will become the integration of the PlayBook’s technologies with engaging functionality offered in third-party applications.

In many ways, RIM has signed its proprietary operating system’s death warrant. As a developer, I would look at the situation and observe the lack of confidence in the unreleased tablet-oriented software and immediately shift my focus elsewhere. There is no longer any incentive for developers to stay with the company, pushing them to create applications on other platforms. RIM needs to make Android app support a last resort, but once the floodgates are open, there’s no telling how many applications will slip through its grasp. Perhaps the PlayBook is the end of an era and the beginning of a new one for RIM. Perhaps it signifies a shift from developing an operating system to focusing on delivering enterprise hardware to businesses while utilizing Google’s resources.

But that is just one person’s opinion. What do you believe? Has RIM signed its own death warrant? Is there any way that this can turn out well for the Canadian consumer electronics manufacturer? Sound off in the comments below.


Jack McGrath

Rooted in his childhood obsession with dismantling and reassembling gizmos and gadgets around the house, Jack McGrath's knowledge of programming,...

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