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09 Apr 12 RIM Moves Against Pirated Android Apps On PlayBook

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PlayBook OS 2.0, which was distributed by Research In Motion in February, allows tablet owners to install and run Android applications. Those apps need to be repackaged by developers, and run in an emulator environment on the tablet. They can be downloaded from the BlackBerry App World store. Well, the official versions, anyway.

Not all Android developers are ready to repackage their applications for RIM’s PlayBook. While PlayBook owners wait for official app releases, unofficial versions of some Android apps for PlayBook OS have become available. These are apps that have been repackaged by people other than the original developer and are being distributed outside the Android Market and BlackBerry App World.

They are, in other words, pirated apps.

Since the pirated apps skip the official distribution channels, that means for-pay applications aren’t earning any income for the original developer. RIM has taken notice of the issue. This isn’t a case of “no harm, no foul,” said Alec Saunders, RIM’s VP of developer relations, in a Twitter exchange with a developer. “Have seen apps from devs uploaded by others, and charged for by people who don’t own.”

[ Will RIM's "do or die" plan work? See RIM CEO Pledges Enterprise Focus, But Clock Ticks. ]

So RIM is going to do something about it.

“We’re removing sideloading for consumers,” said Saunders. “Piracy is a huge problem for Android devs, and we don’t want to duplicate the chaotic cesspool of Android Market. Pretty sure we’ve got a solution for devs.”

RIM will push a software update to the PlayBook in the near future that blocks the ability to sideload applications. This means apps will only be available through the official, RIM-sanctioned BlackBerry App World.

Sound familiar to you? That’s because RIM is apparently adopting Apple’s iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch application policy. Apple, too, restricts application access to the App Store, which it controls. The only way to install non-approved applications on an iPhone is to jailbreak it. Saunders didn’t say if the forthcoming PlayBook update would also break the ability to jailbreak the PlayBook, which has been possible now for several months.

Google takes a different approach. While hundreds of thousands of applications are available to Android devices via the Google Play Store, owners of Android devices can choose to install apps from non-approved sources if they so wish. No hacking is required to enable this functionality. Instead, users must simply check a little box in the settings menu. Google warns that in so doing, however, customers are taking a risk with respect to security and privacy.

Is RIM’s change in stance here a big deal for end users? No, it isn’t. It is the right thing for RIM to do if it wants to protect its relationship with its developer community. Right now, RIM needs to be highly protective of its developers. Without devs, there are no apps, and without apps, its BlackBerry OS 10, slated for release late this year, will die before it reaches the market.

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