iOS Apps Running on Nexus 7 Android tablet
Researchers have developed a system which will allow iOS apps to run on any Android smartphone or tabletReuters

Trying to pick Apple or Android is a question many smartphone and tablet owners find difficult to answer. Apple has a much better library of games and apps, while Android devices have bigger and better screens on which to run those apps.

The problem is that iOS apps simply don't work on Android devices - though that could be be about to change.

Six researchers from the department of computer science at Columbia University in New York have published a paper detailing how they developed a system - dubbed Cider - to run native iOS apps on a Nexus 7 tablet, which uses a pure version of Android.

Cider is described by the developers as "an operating system compatibility architecture that can run applications built for different mobile eco-systems - iOS or Android - together on the same smartphone or tablet."

Stifle innovation

Detailing the reasons why they developed the system, the researchers said that software and hardware manufacturers in the mobile industry had created "vertically integrated platforms" which resulted in so-called walled-gardens without cross platform support.

"These design decisions and the maturity of the mobile market can limit user choice and stifle innovation," the researchers said in an academic paper outlining their research.

It means that Android users cannot access iTunes media they may have previously purchased, while iPhone and iPad users struggle to see Flash video.

The solution the researchers' came up with was Cider, a system which would allow users to buy one device and run all applications - iOS or Android.

Commercial application?

While the postgraduate students have produced a working demo, they say that they have no plans at the moment to produce a commercial version of Cider.

In a video demo posted on YouTube by one of the students involved - Jeremy Andrus - we see the Cider system running on a Nexus 7 device, with both iOS and Android apps installed.

The demo shows a number of iOS apps running on the device including a benchmarking test designed for iOS which plays a short 3D gaming clip to demonstrate the power of the device it is running on.


The demo also shows that as well as opening iOS apps from the home screen just like any Android app, the system integrates the foreign apps into the 'recently opened' menu on Android, meaning iOS apps look and act just like any Android app.

The demo also shows off some of Apple's core apps including the Stocks iPhone apps, Apple's own Remote app which controls iTunes on your Apple laptop or PC and iBooks, Apple's virtual bookshelf.

The system is clearly still in development - or "incomplete" as the developers call it - with the iOS apps able to run, but not very smoothly. It does however give an indication of what could be possible with Cider in the future.

One problem the group has run into is being able to support apps which rely on a plethora of hardware sensors in today's smartphones and tablets, including GPS, Bluetooth and cameras meaning any iOS app which relies on these to work simply won't be supported by the current set-up.

Another issue the researchers ran into was actually getting their hands on the code for the iOS apps. Because most apps need to be decrypted in system memory on an iPhone or iPad, the researchers were required to use a jailbroken iPhone in order get accuse to the apps' source code.