At its BlackBerry World conference earlier this month, RIM promoted its own tablet computer to challenge other providers’ tablet offerings. The BlackBerry PlayBook, which was unveiled at the beginning of 2011, addresses the growing demand for business mobility – a factor I noted as one of the five key business technology innovations of this year.
Last week SAP, at its annual conference, SAPPHIRE NOW, endorsed RIM and its PlayBook as a platform for its mobile applications and tools. The use of RIM’s tablet was evident in many SAP applications areas, including sales.
About the size of a hardbound book, PlayBook makes it easy to run business applications or explore the Internet. It addresses some of the limitations of the Apple iPad with its support for Adobe Flash and a multitasking environment for applications and browser-based tools. The PlayBook provides secure tethering to the BlackBerry smartphone and supports Wi-Fi networking; RIM is expected to introduce a new model that will operate across Sprint’s 4G network. The company also realizes it needs to create a 3G version to work with other carriers.
The PlayBook’s technical specifications are sufficient for a first entry into the market. It comes with a dual-core processor that is symmetric multiprocessing and runs at only 1GHz. It comes with 1GB of internal memory and up to 64GB of internal storage. Its screen resolution of 1024-by-600 pixels is sufficient for most general consumer and business use. From my hands-on analysis and discussion with people at SAPPHIRE, the PlayBook’s touch screen can be hypersensitive and takes a little getting used to.
In a business environment, the PlayBook is designed to run tethered to a BlackBerry smartphone. RIM is helping integrate the tablet with corporate telephony by working with Avaya, Cisco and others so employees can get calls through unified communications. RIM has also released a video chat application to drive more collaboration on the tablet. RIM also introduced BlackBerry Balance, an application designed to improve security of a BlackBerry employed for both business and personal use. But anyone who wants to use a PlayBook without a BlackBerry will encounter some challenges. For instance, the PlayBook lacks a native email client so users must employ a Web browser or a third-party application to connect to their mailboxes.
Software providers in the applications and analytics and business intelligence market have been blazing a trail in mobility for many years. SAP, with its BI version 4 continues to support RIM as it has over the years. However, others such as IBM and MicroStrategy have said nothing about support of the RIM tablet in their recent communications of mobile strategy.
Overall, software providers have been slow to announce support for the platform, unsure how quickly users will adopt it, which will determine the amount of investment they care to make to support another mobile platform. On the other hand, many of the software providers have more confidence in RIM than in Microsoft and its Windows Phone 7 or HP’s webOS and its new mobile technologies.
To make the PlayBook a success, RIM must get a commitment by a broad range of application providers, in the way many have embraced Apple and the iPad. Key applications include talent and workforce management, like that from Kronos, Saba and SuccessFactors, as well as sales applications like those from Oracle and salesforce.com.
At the same time it is pushing its PlayBook tablet, RIM is advancing its family of smartphones, with new 9900 and 9930 models to support a range of near-field communications (NFC) and meet demand for easier and sexier smartphones in business. RIM is also focused on helping corporate IT manage large deployments of its smartphones and tablets by providing device and application management in an upcoming version of its server powered by software acquired from ubitexx.
On the fun side of mobile computing, RIM is working with gaming companies to ensure that their games work within the PlayBook environment. The business and consumer balance of application and games is a critical driver for adoption, and RIM knows that for success. In addition the PlayBook supports high definition (HD) 1080p playback for movies and videos that could be for pleasure or business.
RIM has moved fast to make the PlayBook available for purchase in as many channels as possible. RIM supports BlackBerry Java apps, and also provides SDKs to help developers of Android-based applications port programs to RIM’s platform. The company created BlackBerry App World to provide a place to find a range of applications. And of course no smartphone or tablet would be complete without support for Facebook.
Can the RIM PlayBook grow its market share fast enough to make a dent in the massive adoption of Apple iPad and Google Android tablets? PlayBook reviews have been mediocre, but I believe the tablet has great potential as a business tablet if RIM can strategically engage with software providers and carriers to make the PlayBook an independent tablet as much as a tethered one. The PlayBook has many advantages over the iPad, and I am not just speaking about security and supporting Adobe Flash, but also its form factor and design to support collaboration, video and multi-tasking better than its peers.
Mark Smith – CEO & Chief Research Officer