Sunday, October 03, 2010

RIM’s PlayBook – Can it Work?

After a lot of question marks popped up in mid-September following a Wall Street Journal article, Research in Motion (RIM) announced their first foray into the tablet field last week. I won’t say I’m not surprised – BlackBerry has been trying to tap into the Apple zeitgeist for the better part of two years now – since they launched their first touch screen phone, the Storm back in 2008.
This announcement, however, dovetailed nicely with my post earlier this week about the surge in tablet computing – from Best Buy’s frantic exaggerations to Apple’s industry dominance (for now). As we know, RIM isn’t alone in their rush to get a piece of the soon to be $40 billion dollar a year industry. Samsung’s Galaxy is in the works as we speak. Dell will soon release their Streak tablet and we all know Apple’s working on their second generation iPad that will likely increase storage and improve on a handful of common concerns for owners of the first generation device.
RIM’s new tablet is set to be a 7-inch device using Marvell Technology Group chips and the newest version of a QNX Software Systems OS (not the long maligned BlackBerry OS that is slowly starting to phase out of RIM’s products). Of course, how that QNX operating system will work on a tablet PC remains to be seen. While QNX has done fantastic work in car-dashboard OS and industrial applications, they haven’t worked in the consumer tech field before, and many people including myself are unsure of RIM’s move to dump the BlackBerry OS 6 so quickly.
The App Issue
Another major issue I can’t help but point out is the lack of App support. For better or worse, the mobile computing industry is now reliant on the App store structure established by Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. The BlackBerry OS is already at a major disadvantage in this category – how will it perform when looking down the barrel of hundreds of thousands of apps on rival devices with a second OS to support?
In fact, the App issue is the reason most of the new devices we’ve been hearing about are coming fully loaded with Android (or in the case of the Tega V2, both Android and Windows). Personally, I don’t like this move by RIM. The BlackBerry platform, while lagging in consumer markets, is still the number one smartphone platform in the world due to enterprise users – changing it and knowingly splitting developers in an already hungry atmosphere is questionable.
When a company undermines its dominance because they’re afraid of what another product is doing, bad things happen. Apple has done something special in the design and presentation of their iPhone and iPad devices. However, one thing they haven’t done is produce a quality enterprise platform. RIM has long dominated in this field because their phones are developed with business users in mind, providing advanced security options, immediate support and training programs around the globe for IT professionals – can their new tablet do the same in the midst of an OS transition, without 3G support and with extremely limited options for expansion through Apps?
It makes me wonder – what should a tablet developer be focused on right now if they want to produce a successful device? Does a device need to have Android installed to be financially viable, or can a third party OS succeed, even without all those fun add-ons to choose from?
This is a burgeoning market, but in the next 6-9 months I think we’re going to get a very clear idea of where it is headed and who will take the lead. Apple has by no means locked up the title of tablet King – not with so many missing features for power users, but to overcome their sizable head start, manufacturers will need to produce something that reaches not only those who need tablet tools, but those who are attracted to the sleek new form of the mobile PC.

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