When Research In Motion first announced the BlackBerry PlayBook, some were skeptical about its appeal. After all, the tablet boasts a 7-inch display-smaller than the iPad’s 9.7-inch screen-and it lacks the ability to connect to 3G. The only option available to users away from a Wi-Fi connection is to tether the device with a BlackBerry smartphone. For a device designed with enterprise customers in mind, it didn’t sound all that promising.
But little did critics know at the time that RIM had a trump card up its sleeve. The company has announced a new version of the BlackBerry PlayBook,called the BlackBerry 4G PlayBook, which will feature both Wi-Fi and 4G connectivity. It will be made available exclusively on Sprint’s network.
Adding 4G to a version of the BlackBerry PlayBook was a smart move on RIM’s part. And although the fate of its BlackBerry PlayBook is still in doubt, it seems quite likely that the BlackBerry 4G PlayBook will be a success.
1. The 4G
It’s important to not discount the importance of 4G. As appealing as 3G might be for enterprise tablet users, 4G offers more opportunity. Not only is it faster, but it should help improve employee productivity. Plus, 2011 will likely be the year that most major carriers invest heavily in 4G technology. RIM is positioning itself to capitalize on that trend with the BlackBerry 4G PlayBook.
2. It’s about differentiation
RIM’s decision to bring 4G to its tablet and forgo the addition of 3G might be controversial, given the greater availability of 3G in the U.S. But critics should understand that RIM’sdecision to deliver 4G in the tablet was based in its desire to be different. Simply offering 3G connectivity in its tablet would have meant its product would be like all the others. And in a market where one product-Apple’s iPad-sets the standard, being a little different is probably a smart move.
3. It complements Wi-Fi-only versions
Would it have been better if RIM offered 3G and Wi-Fi in the standard BlackBerry PlayBook model? Sure. But by offering a 4G model, the company is at least complementing those other options. Perhaps most important, it’s giving customers a choice, as does Apple, of either opting for a Wi-Fi-only version (and likely save some money) or go with the 4G model for more connectivity options. It makes sense. RIM’s following Apple’s lead-and given iPad sales figures, that’s probably a smart move.
4. RIM’s opting for new software
The BlackBerry 4G PlayBook would be a downright loser if RIM decided to make its BlackBerry operating system standard on the tablet. The mobile OS is suitable for some enterprise customers, but on a larger form factor with more usability, it doesn’t work. That’s precisely why its decision to offer up a new BlackBerry Tablet OS makes so much sense. At least when it comes to corporate customers, the tablet version should improve productivity, while still delivering a BlackBerry feel.
BlackBerry PlayBook Distinct from the Crowd
5. Choosing Sprint makes sense
Some might wonder why RIM decided to bring its 4G tablet to Sprint’s network rather than, say, Verizon’s. As one might expect, RIM isn’t saying why. Further inspection, however, reveals that it might make some sense. Sprint currently has 4G available in approximately 71 markets-nearly double what Verizon is offering right now. That lead could be gone by the end of 2011. But as Verizon adds more cities to its 4G service, Sprint will do the same. Simply put, opting to work closely with the current market leader appears to be the right thing to do.
6. Consider tethering
As mentioned, the BlackBerry 4G PlayBook only includes 4G and Wi-Fi connectivity support. It won’t ship with 3G built-in. But RIM has a solution: Users can tether their BlackBerry smartphones to the device to access a 3G network from the tablet. Is it the best solution? No. But it’s another option, and, given how heavily invested the corporate world is in BlackBerry smartphones, the functionality should be enough for enterprise customers to opt for that product rather than a competing tablet.
7. It won’t run Android
Android is all the rage at the Consumer Electronics Show this year. But the customers RIM is targeting-enterprise users-aren’t all that keen on that mobile OS. In fact,Android lacks the kind of corporate appeal right now that even Apple’s iOS platform has, due to concerns over security and IT control. That could change with updates to the OS this year, but, at least for now, it’s a good thing that RIM’s tablet is running its own operating system. The mobile company is trusted by the enterprise, and it can capitalize on that.
8. Enterprise features galore
The BlackBerry 4G PlayBook will boast several enterprise features when it launches later this year. In addition to the connectivity options, PlayBook comes with access to BlackBerry Enterprise Server. It also will provide IT managers with more management features than they’re accustomed to on other tablets. The BlackBerry 4G PlayBook should combine the enterprise-friendly features of a BlackBerry smartphone with the convenience of a tablet. That could benefit RIM greatly.
9. There’s nothing quite like it
Uniqueness is integral to the success of any device in the technology industry, and if theBlackBerry 4G PlayBook is anything, it’s unique. It combines 4G connectivity, something that is sorely lacking in the tablet space, with a level of enterprise functionality that could be difficult to match by the competition. Will the BlackBerry 4G PlayBook be more successful than the iPad? Not a chance. But it’s not meant to be. Its uniqueness will help it stand out and be a success in the corporate market, not necessarily in the consumer space.
10. It has one main competitor
So far, RIM’s BlackBerry 4G PlayBook has one worrisome competitor: the Cisco Cius. That device will ship with Android and feature the ability to integrate with existing Cisco network infrastructure in the enterprise. Other than that, RIM isn’t facing much competition for corporate dollars. The iPad is always a consideration, but it’s still a consumer device. Considering RIM has just one main competitor to beat, its chances of being a success are much higher than it is for multiple Android-based devices hoping for a piece of the finite market share Apple hasn’t already taken with its iPad.