Blackberry maker Research In Motion unveiled its much anticipated tablet computer that it hopes will challenge Apple’s iPad. Tim Renowden, Ovum analyst looks at how the switch to new platform will leave Blackberry needing to convince developers to be taken seriously as a rival to Apple and Google’s Android platform.
RIM’s decision to launch a tablet device naturally focuses on the company’s core enterprise customers, while still emphasising the multimedia and games capabilities of the device.
RIM executives believe that there is a huge opportunity for mobile enterprise devices that can deliver enhanced mobility without compromising on usability or compatibility with key business applications, ultimately as a substitute for corporate notebook PCs. Whether the PlayBook is that device remains to be seen.
RIM will leverage its extensive reach into the enterprise market through strong integration with BlackBerry smartphones and the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) architecture, but strong multimedia capabilities are also essential to competing with the iPad and Android tablets. RIM is not the only company with grand plans for enterprise tablets: both Cisco and Avaya have already announced enterprise-focused tablets based on Android.
Leveraging the BlackBerry’s success to upsell customers into a new form factor is a good strategy, but if the PlayBook relies too heavily on the BlackBerry for connectivity and functionality it risks limiting its potential market to hardcore BlackBerry users.
PlayBook introduces next-generation OS based on QNX acquisition
The PlayBook represents a clear shift in BlackBerry platform strategy, away from the familiar Java-based BlackBerry OS to a new BlackBerry Tablet OS platform based on QNX. QNX is used across a number of sectors in automotive, medical, and industrial applications, and is widely regarded as stable, flexible and efficient. However, RIM will have to convince its developer community of the merits of switching to a new platform with new tricks.
The new OS supports a wide range of development methodologies including Java, Adobe Flash, Adobe Mobile AIR, POSIX, OpenGL and web applications, but there is a risk that giving developers too many options will fragment RIM’s developer community.
For now, RIM will continue to use BlackBerry OS 6 on its smartphones, meaning the company will be supporting two operating systems with different capabilities. Ultimately we expect RIM to transition the BlackBerry onto a QNX-based OS, but this will take some time.
RIM to use WebWorks web application platform across smartphones and tablets
Having the same standards-based web application platform available on both tablets and smartphones is a sensible strategy for generating developer interest, but RIM will need a solid range of applications by the time the PlayBook arrives in 2011, if it hopes to compete seriously with the iPad and Android alternatives.
The inclusion of support for cross-platform runtimes such as HTML5, Adobe Flash and Adobe Mobile AIR will be welcomed by content providers and media companies hoping to deploy rich media on tablet devices from multiple manufacturers.
By Tim Renowden
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