BlackBerry Playbook: iPad Competitor or Another New Category of Appliance?

GameOnPlayBookOver the past few months there has been lots of coverage of RIM’s forthcoming BlackBerry Playbook and its potential for acceptance in the quickly emerging tablet market. The media frenzy generally perceives it as a competitor to the iPad; the initial reviews of the past week have been mixed, to say the least.

The issue with these new launches are “expectations” versus the “reality”. Even at the initial iPad launch a year ago, many disappointed reviewers were looking for a device that effectively would be a “tablet” version of a full personal computer. Some reviewers were disappointed that it had no native voice calling application; Truphone and Skype have taken care of that aspect. My own perspective at the time, after watching the announcement presentation, was that it was more an electronic briefcase, providing mobile and portable access to a user’s documents, email, photos and videos as well as to the web (sans Flash support, however).

At Christmas I received an iPad and have found it’s been a replacement for most of my newspaper reading, an alternative for watching NHL hockey games on my NHL Center Ice subscription (cable TV, PC, iPhone and iPad) and instant access to the my documents stored on the cloud through services such as Dropbox. There are many other applications that are handy to have accessible. It provides access to all my social networking services: Twitter, Facebook, foursquare and YouTube. And, of course, I can make Skype calls; however, with only the iPhone form factor, one can readily visualize there is opportunity for Skype to make better use of the tablet-size display format. Bottom line: I take it wherever I go and have ready access to all my cloud content as well as handy applications, such as the Toronto Transit app, that can assist with my road warrior activities.

Since its announcement back in October I have followed the PlayBook, starting with the announcement last October and providing some commentary at the time.

BlackBerry Playbook: Leveraging All of RIM’s Strengths into a Tablet

Later I saw the demonstration at CES 2011, recently attended a Mobile Monday Toronto presentation discussing the developer opportunities for applications and this weekend read some of the initial reviews of the past few days.

G&M.FrontPage.15Apr11.240pxAll these activities have established certain expectations. The most obvious one is that it is a competitor to the iPad. Certainly it is an alternative tablet platform and satisfies the media’s thirst for comparisons, whether valid or not. But any tablet platform that cannot distinguish itself from the iPad does not support a sustainable business model. While there is certainly some overlap, it also has its significant differentiators. In general the media are having difficulty separating the  technology from the user experience. We have yet to see real user experiences that evolve from the technology behind the platform.

Yesterday, above the fold, the Globe and Mail’s front page very visibly directs readers to the Report on Business three page spread reporting on the Playbook’s launch.

Frankly I have never seen the Globe and Mail or its Report on Business do such extended coverage of a product launch. However, as Canada’s “National” newspaper they have recognized the importance of the PlayBook’s launch as not only significant for Research in Motion but also for its potential value to Canada’s economy and high tech indutry. RIM has become Canada’s technology darling and counts over 12,000 Canadians amongst it 18,000 employees worldwide; it’s an important player in these times of a challenging economy.


The primary article: “RIM makes a play for its future” where technology reporter Omar El Akkad writes:

This is one of the most important moments in the history of Canada’s most important technology company – not because RIM needs to sell millions of PlayBooks or beat the iPad to survive (it doesn’t), but because it must prove that it has a second act.

A lot more is riding on the PlayBook’s success or failure than the trajectory of a single company. Since the slow death of Nortel Networks, RIM has moved to the centre of the Canadian technology sector. It spawns new startups or acquires them, spends a healthy proportion of its $1.3-billion research and development budget in Canada and is the largest employer of co-op students in the country. No other Canadian-controlled business offers as much opportunity for bright Canadian engineers and mathematicians to find meaningful work at home.

Coming out of the launch coverage are several significant questions:

  • While BlackBerry Playbook is an obvious complement to the BlackBerry smartphones, can it serve, in its current offering, as a stand alone device for the consumer market?
  • Is BlackBerry’s traditional security sufficient to maintain its significant presence in the business and government markets?
  • Will WiFi as the only wireless mode on the launch version be a limitation?
  • When “content is king” for the tablet market how will RIM appeal to developers to ramp up applications rapidly?
  • Are there any “killer” apps coming out initially? Does it have any totally disruptive features?
  • How will it leverage the dual cameras not simply for photographs and video recording but rather will we soon see any video calling applications?
  • Is it really an iPad competitor or are we seeing the launch of new type of tablet-size appliance?

Media thrives on having competitive comparisons. They especially want to find the “killer” device for a product that has been an obvious hit. (Look at how many “competitors” there are to Skype in the real time communications space but none has achieved nine figure numbers of active users.)

In a follow up post I’ll address these issues and point out key strengths and weaknesses that make the PlayBook an interesting tablet market play and where I see potential new directions for this type of device.

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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