The Tablet Threat

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-08-14 Print this article Print

While RIM BlackBerry phones face immediate threats from iPhone and Android, RIM's mettle to vie for the future of the corporate IT market is being severely tested in another device subset: tablet computers.

Apple's iPad, already the dominant tablet computer with nearly 30 million units sold since its launch in April 2010, is becoming a favorite in the enterprise. There are many reasons for this.

The product was the first of its kind to serve as a viable computing slate. It's also quite good, so it has come to set the bar for what consumers and IT workers expect in tablets.

RIM has a tablet, too; the BlackBerry PlayBook, a pretty, 7-inch slate fueled by a 1GHz processor. Unfortunately, RIM didn't launch the PlayBook until April 19 of this year and reported that it has sold only 500,000-plus units to date. By comparison, Apple's iPad 2 sold 500,000 units during its first launch day, March 11.

"The fact that it took so long to get the PlayBook to market is one of the challenges that RIM is dealing with," Forrester's Pelino said.

That certainly jibes with what is happening in one of the nation's largest law firms. Proskauer Rose issued iPad 2 slates to 500 of its 700 partners through April and May. The PlayBook was available at that time, but Proskauer had opted to go with the iPad months before that, said Malcolm Collingwood, senior technology strategist for Proskauer.

"When we made these technology decisions, the iPad was in the marketplace and the PlayBook wasn't," said Collingwood.

Proskauer is a harsh reminder of a missed opportunity for the PlayBook, which didn't hit the market until a year after the first iPad launch.

Proskauer's iPads include business applications such as DocsToGo and Goodreader. Attorneys for the firm use their iPads to send and receive e-mail messages and other electronic documents. Partners, for example, use the iPads to go over contracts with clients. Attorneys also participate in conference calls remotely while following a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation on the device.

Steve Kayman, a partner and chair of Proskauer's technology committee, said the firm mulled seeding the firm with laptops two years ago, but felt the winds of technology were changing toward more modular machines such as netbooks and tablets.

"We decided to offer the iPad because we felt that was the direction in which technology was moving," said Kayman, adding that Proskauer let partners choose between a laptop or a desktop and an iPad. Most picked the desktop and iPad combo.

Interestingly, it should also be noted that Proskauer is still primarily a BlackBerry shop for smartphones, with 600 out of 700 partners using one BlackBerry handset or another to communicate. What do the other 100 use? iPhones.

Proskauer pays for its partners' devices and data contracts, and it has tapped mobile device management software specialist MobileIron to help manage and secure its partners' iPhones and iPads. The firm uses BES to manage it BlackBerry devices.

While Collingwood said he currently doesn't find it onerous to operate MobileIron and BES mobile device management suites, he acknowledged MobileIron could support all of Proskauer's devices in the future. That could mean another hit for RIM's BES.

Fender and Proskauer Rose are just two examples of corporations looking outside the RIM sphere for mobile devices. Indeed, this is a sensitive issue, and there's a lot of money-both present and future-at stake.

Not every customer wants to discuss why they switch platforms, but they are out there. It's clear that RIM must double its efforts to retain its enterprise market lead.


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