RIM hopes apps will sell PlayBooks

The company is promoting native and Android apps as it prepares to launch the first major overhaul of the PlayBook OS next month

Research In Motion is highlighting the native and Android apps available on its struggling PlayBook at the Consumer Electronics Show as it prepares to launch the first major overhaul of the tablet's software next month.

The company is demonstrating PlayBook OS 2.0 in its booth, showing off the Android apps that will finally be available to users of the tablet. RIM said in March last year that it would release a player that would let users of the tablets run apps designed for Android, and that capability will finally be available with PlayBook OS 2.0.

Popular games such as Cut the Rope and Plants vs. Zombies will be available in the store, said Alec Saunders, vice president of developer relations and ecosystem development. The apps appear and work like any other app; users don't have to launch a separate player to run them.

Not just any Android app will be accessible to users, and that's by design, Saunders said. "We don't want to enable an open marketplace the way the Android Market is," he said. Android developers must use a software package to make their apps compatible with the PlayBook, and then they must submit it to RIM's standard app curation process. The company hopes to weed out the malware and pirated apps that often appear in the Android Market, he said.

When PlayBook OS 2.0 becomes available, "some number of thousands" of Android apps will be available in the market, Saunders said. The company has been working with some of the aggregator marketplaces to port apps and attending Android meetups to encourage developers to make their apps available to PlayBook users, Saunders said.

There is one limitation to the Android apps in the PlayBook. Users will be able to multitask multiple Android apps on the tablet but only run one Android app in combination with a native app, Saunders said.

PlayBook 2.0 also notably offers users contact and email functions without having to connect the tablet to their BlackBerry phone. The contacts application has a few new features that integrate social networking apps, including Twitter, LinkedIn and in the future, Facebook. When a user opens a contact record, the user will see a list of the contact's recent Twitter, LinkedIn and eventually Facebook updates. The user will also be able to view a list of all recent meetings with the person.

RIM is taking pains to attract as many developers as possible by supporting as many languages and frameworks as possible. "One thing we're focused on is providing a rich palette of tools developers can use," Saunders said. RIM has developed ports for a number of frameworks and languages to make it easy for developers to use whatever tools they are already familiar with.

Currently there are 50,000 apps available in BlackBerry App World, which is available to phone and tablet users.

RIM seems to hope that offering a rich selection of apps will attract users of the PlayBook, but so far buyers have been elusive. The company shipped just 150,000 PlayBooks during its third quarter. However, RIM is launching new marketing programs to push the tablet and says it is committed to the tablet, despite some calls from analysts for the company to drop it.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

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