RIM’s PlayBook lacks the applications and content necessary to challenge Apple’s iPad but, as an enterprise tablet, perhaps it isn’t meant to, says Clint Boulton
When rumours bubbled up last week that Research In Motion was set to unveil a tablet computer, talk turned to how the device would battle Apple’s iPad and devices based on Google’s Android operating system.
It turns out that the PlayBook — as the world learned it was called after its launch at the BlackBerry Developer Conference on 27 September — is more of a rival to a desktop or notebook in the business sector.
Indeed, the 7-inch device, expected to be available in the United States early next year, is not a BlackBerry OS-flavoured version of today’s media-focused tablets, such as the popular iPad or the Android-based Samsung Galaxy Tab.
Built for business
RIM is not positioning its tablet as a Netflix-craving machine geared for mass video consumption, but as a device fitted with “true multitasking, high performance multimedia, and advanced security features.”
The tablet’s pair of embedded cameras will enable smooth video conferencing. The PlayBook is also compatible with BlackBerry Enterprise Server, enabling all manner of business apps to run on the device.
Enterprise-grade security is all well and good, but a tablet still demands content and applications.
To wit: RIM, at the launch event, also unveiled its BlackBerry Messenger Social Platform, BlackBerry WebWorks Application Platform, a new Enterprise Application Development Platform and BlackBerry Advertising Services to augment its application ecosystem. Unfortunately, these are nascent platforms and products.
While RIM said it sports 35 million BlackBerry App World customers — accounting for 1.5 million downloads per day — the lack of a ready-made application and content ecosystem to support the machine (the iPad launched with several content partners) is problematic.
Content is key
IMS Research analyst Anna Hunt said RIM could find it challenging to introduce a new tablet without an extensive library of content and apps.
“RIM does have a strong brand and cool appeal, which will benefit the company in the tablet space, but they will have to do something impressive in terms of managed services and content to win share away from iPad and Android tablets,” Hunt said.
Financial analyst Jeffrey Fidacaro, from Susquehanna Research, agreed. He said while the RIM tablet is a positive for a company, there will be a major transition period to the new QNX operating system, which could result in a delay as programmers build a critical mass of applications for it.
Fidacaro, who said last week that he expects 2.5 million PlayBooks to be built for the fourth quarter, said upgrading RIM’s 50 million-plus subscribers to the new platform could take at least two years.
Moreover, the PlayBook’s distribution will initially be cramped, as carriers will shy away from a device devoid of 3G.
The PlayBook supports Bluetooth and tethers to a BlackBerry smartphone, “which provides a low incentive for the carriers to push this device, in our view,” Fidacaro said in a 28 September research note.
That will provide iPad and Android tablets ample time to build momentum against RIM.
BlackBerry Enterprise Server
It’s clear an air of uncertainty hovers over RIM, which is trying to keep users on its mobile platforms at a time when growth for Apple’s iOS for the iPad and iPhone is robust and Android-based smartphones and tablets are sprouting up everywhere you look.
Still, RIM’s ace in the hole has always been its BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which has helped the company place BlackBerry smartphones into thousands of businesses that demand optimal security.
If the company can position the PlayBook the same way, it could soar to dominance in businesses, beating out more consumer- and media-centric devices such as the iPad, Galaxy Tab and others.