Poor battery life is likely the reason that Research In Motion has delayed the launch of its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet until the second quarter of 2011, according to a new report from Kaufman Bros. analyst Shaw Wu.
"We hear that the PlayBook needs to improve [its] relatively poor battery life of a few hours compared to 6 hours for the Samsung Galaxy Tab and 10 hours for the iPad," Wu wrote in a Dec. 28 research note. "From our understanding, this could require a bit of re-engineering."
One likelihood, Wu continued, is that RIM will replace the battery with a larger one. This is not a bad idea, for a device running multicore processors, but a move that could add to the tablets heft and weight.
The PlayBook, instead of running RIMs freshly redesigned BlackBerry 6, runs a new mobile OS based on software from QNX, which RIM acquired in April from Harman. The latter had used a version of the OS in millions of vehicles, infotainment and telematics systems. This new OS could also be at the source of the PlayBooks battery woes. "Keep in mind," wrote Wu, "that QNX was't originally designed for mobile environments but rather for devices like network equipment and automobiles, where battery life isn't as much a constraint."
More problematic than bad battery life, however, is word that some developers are questioning the wisdom of supporting two operating systems, Wu wrote, at a time when many are consolidating their efforts around the iPhone and Android.
In a DisplaySearch report from the same day, Senior Analyst Richard Shim noted that in order for emerging tablets to effectively compete against the Apple iPad (which currently controls 96 percent of the market) they must have not only great hardware, but an operating system, lots of good apps and the ability to manage, promote, qualify and support developers. Those that will survive the next few years, wrote Shim, are the players that make a significant investment in an OS and an ecosystem to support the OS.
On the application front, said Wu, Apple clearly stands apart in having a reliable, inventory-packed store. Android, while its number of apps are climbing, suffers from piracy and inconsistency. But RIM is in the less-enviable position of having simply not enough apps and users. Whether QNX will attract enough developers to fix this is unclear.
While RIM recently partnered with Amazon.com for music, it still lacks in other important content including movies, television shows, and e-books, wrote Wu. Moreover, the BlackBerry platform has only 15,000 apps compared to 300,000 for iPhone and 100,000 for Android.
Helping RIM may be its planned transition of QNX to BlackBerry handsets, where it will eventually replace the BlackBerry OS all together. At RIM's September Developer Conference in San Francisco, an executive confirmed that this was in the works, and at another San Francisco conference in December RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis confirmed this. However it's not likely to happen before the rollout of a BlackBerry 7.
Kaufman's Wu expects RIM to sell approximately 700,000 PlayBooks in 2011 a figure considerably below other market estimates of 1 million to 8 million units. This is due not only to its battery or applications issue, it seems, but because he expects the iPad to continue to dominate.
"As we have said before," Wu wrote, "we are not convinced that tablets outside of the iPad will see high volume success."