RIM opens its PlayBook – tablets clearly set for dominance
But Apple could catch up
Tablets are going to be a lot bigger than everyone realizes. We have been thinking this for the past few months, just after the first murmurs of sales volumes for the iPad, as we began to realize that it was perfectly capable of replacing some desktop PCs, many Notebooks and at least half of all netbooks, along with offering a number of entirely new service concepts.
Our financial partner in the US, TownHall Research, has come out with a best case/worst case report with Rethink input that points the way to over 500 million tablets by 2015, and as many as one billion of them shipped by then if we take all the upsides. By all means ask us for a copy of that report, and we will relay your request to TownHall and next month we plan our own second forecast in this market.
But this week we had one of the upsides in our view: the early entry into this market of Research in Motion, the Blackberry handset maker. Almost every blog and news article wanted to put down the effort of RIM, mostly on the grounds that as a company, it is not being adventurous enough in that it has aimed the PlayBook seven-inch tablet device fairly and squarely at its existing enterprise customer base.
This does two things for us which are unprecedented: it has made the device partner with its own handsets, and it has firmly invited enterprises to join the tablet market without the loss of control that can sometimes be felt when half of the executives of the company go off and buy their own iPhone/iPad or whatever device they fancy.
First the device: the PlayBook has a seven-inch capacitive touchscreen, just like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and it will launch in the US early next year and internationally from the second quarter. No pricing was released.
The OS is a new one, not relying on the new BlackBerry OS 6.0, which despite a major update a few weeks back failed to set the world on fire when it appeared on the latest smartphone, the Torch. The tablet will instead run a new software platform, called BlackBerry Tablet OS, but based on Neutrino, acquired with QNX earlier this year. This has not been used much in mobile devices but has scored for robustness and content delivery, mainly as part of in-car systems, and it is already fully multitasking.
The lack of cellular connectivity on the device has been seen as a negative, but one of the main conclusions we are reaching is that everyone will need a tablet and a smart phone (or at least a phone) because there are some things for which you need your handset (voice, touch and go payments) and there are other things, which you would prefer to trust to your tablet – battery intensive activity, large screen operations like consuming content.
So we don't see this lack of cellular as negative, more a trend. Remember the Samsung Tab will not be cellular enabled in the US, despite having a Euro version with a radio chip. The Blackberry handset will convert a 3G signal into Wi-Fi to provide the PlayBook anywhere connectivity, but when in reach of cheaper connectivity such as your home Wi-Fi network, the Tablet connects direct. So you buy your tablet and use it with an existing 3G plan for some of the time, Wi-Fi the rest.
So naturally this new PlayBook has syncing capabilities with the BlackBerry, and secure pairing via Bluetooth. The RIM brand will immediately give IT departments everywhere an answer to “I want an iPad” without changing, tweaking or compromising the corporate email servers and corporate security standards, or even breaking any habits. This pairing idea is something we are likely to see even in Apple devices in next generation iPads and someone out there will invent a device which a detachable phone built in, we're sure of it.
RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis said in a statement that the firm had "set out to engineer the best professional grade tablet in the industry with cutting edge hardware features and one of the world's most robust and flexible operating systems. The BlackBerry PlayBook solidly hits the mark with industry leading power, true multitasking, uncompromised web browsing and high performance multimedia."
The core specifications are already way ahead of the iPad, though its delivery timescale means that Apple will have a chance to respond with updated devices, which of course will have the Apple cachet and sell even better. The RIM PlayBook is powered by a dual-core 1GHz processor, a capacitive touch screen, WebKit browser and offers 1080p video recording. It has N flavoured Wi-Fi and a 3MP front-facing camera and 5MP rear-facing. The product supports Flash Player 10.1, Adobe Mobile AIR and HTML5. It comes with a new developer platform called WebWorks, which can build Apps which span the PlayBook and the BlackBerry Torch, even though they have different operating systems, which is cool. Java is also supported as a cross-platform option. The BlackBerry Tablet OS SDK is planned for release in the coming weeks and developers can register for early access.
RIM unveiled the device at its annual BlackBerry DevCon developer event, indicating that it sees the tablet as a means to expand its enterprise class range of apps.
RIM also introduced a rival ad network to Apple's iAd, called the BlackBerry Advertising Service, which will allow programmers to incorporate in-app promotions which can use a number of independent mobile ad networks including Amobee, Jumptap, Lat49, Millennial Media and Mojiva. Now that's a smart move, and it gets Ad networks on your side, not against you. Developers will earn 60 per cent of revenues derived from ads incorporated into their apps.
But it is the enterprise focus that will open up its existing customer base. It starts life with Push email and BlackBerry security for corporate data access, although we'd expect more and more as we approach delivery.
At the launch the exceptional punch of a dual core GHz processor was said to offer enough power to play many top class games on. The Blackberry App World really doesn't have many games on it, but we need to read between the lines here – it is saying, IT departments will want to push this at corporate players, so we need it to outmuscle the iPad, and hope that gaming app developers will join the party and port away from Apple. It may work and it may open up a little more market share for what is going to be a long marathon of a Tablet war, not a short sprint.
This week another forecast from investment bank Canaccord Genuity, put Tablets at 55 million units in 2011 (our friends at TownHall have it at 72.5 million) with 2010 shipments at 20 million units. Canaccord Genuity reckons that iPad alone will grow from 13.5 million in 2010 to 25.5 million in 2011, and even with a company that is clearly pro-Apple this is making a case that it will have less than a 50 per cent market share a year from now, which is way below the 70 per cent share that Apple has continued to be able to hold in the MP3 player market a full nine years after its first product introduction, something that we agree with, and which bodes well for these other early introductions from Samsung, RIM and anticipated devices from the likes of Motorola.
Copyright © 2010, Faultline 
Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here .