Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/02/16/mwc_ceo_panl/

RIM boss: 'Our PlayBook shames the You Know What'

Unruly mob boos iPhone

By Simon Rockman

Posted in Tablets, 16th February 2011 19:28 GMT

MWC 2011 Never has anyone spent so much time talking about Apple without saying the ‘A’ word than RIM CEO Jim Balsillie as he showed off the company's upcoming PlayBook tablet at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Playing to the gallery of operators – a congregation that booed when the iPhone 4 won ‘best handset’ at last night’s GSMA awards – he talked about how the PlayBook does things the unmentionablepad doesn’t, and how those things will make money for networks.

Balsillie was on stage with fellow CEOs Stephen Elop of Nokia, Dr Paul Jacobs of Qualcomm, and Ryuji Yamada of NTT DoCoMo. The topic: “Connecting the Dots - A 360° View on Consumer Electronics”. Given that this was a pants thing to ask them, they all wisely gave a nod to it and then talked about what they wanted to talk about.

What Jim Balsillie wanted to say was: “Hey, you know that sexy new tablet? We can do that too. You know that sexy new handset/operator alliance aimed at operators? We can do that too.” But he was more subtle.

RIM is now a Consumer Electronics company because it has a tablet. Embracing the Consumer Electronics element, he talked of a “constructive alignment” of Consumer Electronics companies with carriers – an alignment that was the difference between going through the operators' billing systems and going over the top and disintermediating the carrier.

What makes the PlayBook great, he said, is that it supports real-time multitasking with symmetric multiprocessing. It’s also open – although everyone has different measurements of ‘open’ and no mention was made of OS openness.

Who pays the piper

What is open is the choice of dev systems: you can use HTML5, Dreamweaver, JavaScript, and CSS. This is what the CEOs of the carriers want. Support for various flavours of 4G will also make carriers salivate. In deference to the GSMA hosts, he didn’t mention WiMAX. But the PlayBook can do that.

Balsillie went on to look at mobile devices for payments. This starts with carrier billing for BlackBerry App World offerings, a brave thing to highlight because RIM only has agreements with a handful of carriers while Nokia has over 100 such agreements. But Stephen Elop was too much of a gentleman to point this out.

Carrier billing is ostensibly about a seamless experience for the user, buying your Angry Birds Mighty Eagle without having to type in a credit card number in the middle of the game. In truth, it’s about getting operators to buy your kit because there is ongoing money in it.

Treading delicately on the toes of financial regulation, Balsillie announced the ability to send operator credit from one BlackBerry to another with BlackBerry Messenger, gifting airtime and applications. He needs to be careful with this as it won’t be legal in some countries, and if there were ever any hint of turning that credit back into cash, the financial might of most financial regulators would descend on him.

He confirmed the rumours that there will be an NFC-enabled device, going further by saying that it is possible that all future BlackBerry devices will have NFC, mirroring an announcement Nokia made last November for all smartphones.

Qualcomm's connected world

Dr Paul Jacobs started by looking back ten years, neatly avoiding the issue that back then Qualcomm meant CDMA and so were the enemy. Mobile data may have existed, but people didn’t want it. What he sees is a world in which everything is connected. Tens of billions of devices rather than the few billion people with a handset – but the handset will be the hub.

That connection will be through multiple types of radio so that your phone can talk to your TV. If it’s as much of a pain to connect a device as it is with todays Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, that’s not good enough. Those radios will explore the local environment but they'll need to do it at very low power, and to do that it needs to happen at the hardware level. Guess what Dr Jacobs makes? Hardware.

Next up was a very impressive Stephen Elop. Not only did he avoid the A word, he stayed away from the M word too, with only one passing reference. His focus was the low end: getting the internet out to people who can only afford the cheapest phones. Making them aspirational, dual SIM, and Qwerty. Nokia ships a million phones a day to these people and they will get Nokia Maps, Nokia Money, Nokia Life Tools, more social networking, instant messaging, and email solutions – all on Series 40.

As he was avoiding the M word, Jacobs didn’t include Bing, even though part of the deal announced last week is that all Nokia phones, not just smart ones, will get Bing. The overtone was of social responsibility. Nokia is a caring company, doing well by doing good. In a very clever twist, “Connecting People” is no longer about voice, connecting people to each other, but connecting people to their environment for health, banking, education, and agricultural information.

Back to the Future

And while the two Canadians and one American looked to the future, Ryuji Yamada, president and CEO of NTT DOCOMO, lives in it. Japan has 100 per cent 3G penetration, and he expects data ARPU to overtake voice next month. Machine-to-machine connections are heading for double-digit growth, and NTT DOCOMO will sell six million smartphones in the year including some with LTE.

Connected devices include the $11/month Otayori photo service, which gets you a digital picture frame you can put in your old folks' house so that you can send pictures of their grandchildren by email. Mechanical diggers now have cellular tachographs in them so that the owners can both track utilisation and, if they are started at night, know if they are being stolen.

The mix of the speakers led moderator Ben Wood to ask the insightful question: “Has the focus of development moved to the US?” The response from Paul Jacobs was that it’s a global industry, and most of his money comes from selling chips to Asia. Stephen Elop countered that Nokia was a proud Finnish company, and Jim Balsillie said that RIM is the operators' friend.

Ben Wood also asked Stephen Elop about his declaration that Microsoft (there, I’ve said it) and Nokia constituted a Third Ecosystem, after Apple and Google. Had he not noticed the Canadian sitting next to him?

Elop gave a very different answer to the one that he gave to the same question at a press conference on Sunday. Then he said “Qwerty phones, we make them too”. Today, ever the gentleman, he talked of being in the same ecosystem as RIM. The one that was the operators' best friend. So perhaps it was both the handset manufacturers playing to the gallery. ®