A report hit the wire on Tuesday claiming Research In Motion is working on a tablet computer designed to compete with the iPad. Although RIM has yet to confirm that such a device exists and the company won’t even say that it’s considering moving into the tablet space, it’s seeming more and more likely that such a device will eventually hit store shelves.
The reason why is quite simple: Every other mobile company is doing it, so why shouldn’t RIM? And if it can find a way to be successful in the tablet space, it could bolster its smartphone operation.
But before RIM gets ahead of itself, the company needs to consider several factors that will dictate its success or failure in the tablet market. Although Apple has proved that tablets can be successful, that’s Apple. It knows how to appeal to consumers, and it understands what needs to be done to achieve its goals.
RIM is a much different company with different customers from Apple. With that in mind, it’s difficult to say that a BlackBerry tablet would be a success. Yes, it might appeal to some customers, but for the vast majority, sticking with the iPad will be the way to go. Here’s why:
1. RIM is for the enterprise
The main issue facing RIM is that it generally caters to enterprise customers. How it plans to parlay that success in the corporate world to the consumer market where tablets are most coveted is anyone’s guess. Whether RIM likes it or not, its core business is found in the many businesses across the world. Tablets are designed for those who want to be able to be more productive while sitting on the couch at the end of the day or like being productive while on the go. Although the company will likely try to bring the enterprise in on the action, tablets just aren’t productive enough for corporate customers. That could be a major problem for RIM.
2. Design isn’t RIM’s strong suit
As nice as some folks think BlackBerry models are, they pale in comparison to the iPhone or the many Android-based devices on the market. In the smartphone space that’s not such a big deal, since corporate customers don’t necessarily need the best-looking device on the market. But in the tablet space, all that changes. Tablets need to be well-designed, sport certain features and deliver an experience that most consumers would expect for a device that’s built for those on the go. Unfortunately for RIM, that’s not one of its strong suits. Take a look at some of the latest devices RIM has offered. Do they look like they come from a company that can design a great-looking tablet?
3. The Storm is a nightmare
A BlackBerry tablet wouldn’t be RIM’s first foray into the touch-screen space. The company’s Storm and Storm2 smartphones are available for those who want BlackBerry functionality with an iPhone-like interface. The only problem is, those phones are downright awful. The Storm2 is admittedly better than its predecessor, but they both fail to deliver a viable touch-screen experience. Luckily, RIM ditched its idea to force users to depress the screen when they chose an icon in the Storm2, but it needs to do much more if it wants to make a dent in the iPad’s market share. The Storm is not the inspiration RIM needs for its tablet.
4. BlackBerry OS isn’t ready
Although BlackBerry OS is a great mobile operating system for those who want to be able to get work done, it just doesn’t make much sense running on a tablet. Screen navigation is too difficult, and it lacks some key features, like a clean interface, that are required for a tablet to be successful. That said, reports talking about the new tablet say that RIM will offer a new version of BlackBerry OS when it releases its tablet. That’s a good thing. But if history is the judge for RIM’s future, chances are, the company’s tablet operating system will miss the mark.
RIM Needs to Rework Multitasking
5. Where are all the apps?
A tablet simply cannot be successful without a good selection of applications for users to choose from. In the mobile market, RIM is far behind when it comes to apps. In fact, its BlackBerry App World has a mere fraction of the applications available in Apple’s App Store. And the chances of that changing anytime soon are slim. Unfortunately for RIM, its software just doesn’t attract developers. And without some help from apps, it might be extremely difficult for its BlackBerry tablet to get off the ground, let alone be a success in the competitive space. Apps are the key to success in the tablet market. And right now, RIM is far behind.
6. The corporate market is untested
There is a possibility that RIM will attempt to create a tablet that doesn’t compete directly with the iPad. Instead, the company could create a tablet that appeals to corporate users who need a mobile product but want to be able to have the same functionality they enjoy on a BlackBerry. Although that might be a smart idea, it’s worth mentioning that the corporate market is largely untested when it comes to tablets. So far, consumers have been buying tablets, while enterprise customers have stuck with laptops or netbooks for their mobile-productivity needs. If RIM is targeting the enterprise, it should tread lightly.
7. Its Web browser is abysmal
A key success factor in the tablet market is having a solid browser. Right now, RIM’s browser is one of the worst in the mobile market. Unless the company finds a way to drastically improve its browser, or partners with another company to bring a solid browser to its software, the BlackBerry tablet will be far behind the competition. Tablet customers want to be able to surf the Web and enjoy an experience like one they would have on their desktops. Apple’s Safari browser delivers that. RIM’s BlackBerry browser doesn’t. And that’s a problem.
8. The computer business is totally different
RIM might be a success in the smartphone market, but the computing space, and especially the tablet market, is much different. Not only is there more solid competition in the computing space, but customers expect different things from the devices they intend to buy. And since carriers don’t necessarily govern the viability of a product, RIM’s BlackBerry tablet will need to stand on its own against Apple’s iPad, Dell’s Streak and any other tablet that will eventually hit store shelves. Can RIM stand up to that challenge? It’s certainly debatable.
9. The multitasking conundrum
Apple plans to offer multitasking in the iPad in the coming weeks. When that happens, the company’s software will finally offer the functionality that consumers have been waiting for. Currently, BlackBerry OS offers multitasking, which puts it ahead of the iPad. But the problem with RIM’s multitasking functionality is that it’s not implemented well. To induce customers to buy a BlackBerry tablet, the company will need to do a better job of making it easy for users to switch between applications without losing their information. Apple has created a new interface to accommodate app management. RIM must work on something of its own. If it plans to release a tablet, it has no choice.
10. Customer perception is everything
One of the biggest issues a BlackBerry tablet will face, and arguably the biggest reason why it won’t work, is that customers perceive RIM to be an enterprise-focused company. Yes, the company is starting to perform better in the consumer market, but when a tablet hits store shelves, it will need to find a way to reinvent itself. Consumers are looking for a tablet from a company that they know can deliver what they’re looking for. When it comes to tablets, they don’t want what they believe will be a corporate-focused device. Customer perception is everything in the tech industry. If RIM wants to be successful, it will need to do its part to change that perception. It has no other option.