The operating system powering future BlackBerry smartphones might be able to do something very unusual: run applications written for the rival Android OS.
The BlackBerry platform is selling well today, but its long-term prospects are dim because it is falling way behind the Apple iOS and Google Android OS in third-party software. Both of these rival platforms have hundreds of thousands of apps, while there are far, far fewer for devices made by Research In Motion (RIM).
Further complicating this is RIM’s plan to switch from the BlackBerry OS to a new one based on the QNX OS. This move is being made first in the upcoming PlayBook tablet, but company executives have said that smartphones will make the jump in a couple of years.
Devices running the QNX-based OS will need to include a Java virtual machine to run legacy BlackBerry apps, and an unconfirmed report indicates that RIM is seriously considering using the Dalvik virtual machine. This is a Java VM developed by Google for the Android OS.
Including Dalvik, along with a number of other system tools, would allow future BlackBerry smartphones and tablets to run Android OS software.
Android is an open-source operating system, so RIM theoretically could do this even without Google’s help. Or Google could be involved, raising the possibility of other Android OS features making the jump to future BlackBerrys.
More about the QNX OS
QNX was developed to perform all of its functions with a set of microkernels, rather than a single kernel. This allows device makers to easily scale down the operating system by leaving out the pieces that aren’t needed, or to modify it by adding additional pieces.
The version to be used on the BlackBerry PlayBook — called appropriately the BlackBerry Tablet OS — supports touchscreens, accelerated 3D graphics, HD video, as well as Adobe Mobile AIR, Adobe Flash, and HTML5. It is not yet known what the features of the phone version will be.
This change to RIM’s smartphones is still some time away. RIM’s plan is to make BlackBerry OS 7 an intermediary step. BlackBerry OS 6 only debuted a few months ago, so the full switch is likely a couple of years away.