Decisions, decisions -- should you plan to buy a BlackBerry PlayBook or one of the new Android-based tablets unveiled at CES? That choice could soon get a whole lot easier, because if the rumors are true, the PlayBook may be able to run Android apps.
Research in Motion (RIM) declined to comment on the scuttlebutt, but the idea itself is sound. RIM needs some kind of Java environment running on the PlayBook if it wants developers to be able to port their existing BlackBerry OS 6 applications to the PlayBook's new, QNX-based OS. (RIM did confirm to InfoWorld's Paul Krill that it has not yet chosen the JVM it would use to in its Java environment for the PlayBook.) What form that environment will take is still up for grabs, but one option the company is reportedly considering is Android's Dalvik virtual machine.
Dalvik has advantages over the Java ME virtual machine that RIM uses now. Although developers write apps for Dalvik in the Java language, apps compiled for Dalvik are smaller than ones compiled for Java ME, and the Dalvik VM itself has been optimized to run at maximum efficiency on mobile devices.
Perhaps equally important, Dalvik is not the JVM. It's a unique virtual machine implementation that Google claims does not infringe on any of Oracle's Java patents (although, naturally, Oracle says different). It's also open source software, released under the commercially permissive Apache license. If RIM is looking for a way out of Oracle's licensing scheme for Java ME, Dalvik could well be it.
Still, questions remain. Dalvik's biggest drawback is that it doesn't execute Java bytecode directly. Java class files need to be recompiled before they run on Dalvik, which means none of the existing BlackBerry apps would run as is. That might be OK, though, because RIM has already said developers will need to "repackage" their BlackBerry code before it will run on the PlayBook.