RIM PlayBook Balances Corporate, Consumer Demands, Executive Says

RIM is pitching the upcoming PlayBook tablet as a secure enterprise-ready device, but it also has features that will fit into a user's personal life as well, according to RIM Vice President David Heit.

David Heit talks a lot about the need for balance when discussing Research In Motion's upcoming PlayBook device, the company's challenge to the Apple iPad's dominance in the burgeoning tablet market.

Holding a PlayBook during an interview with eWEEK at a recent SAP event in Boston, Heit, RIM's vice president of strategy, said company executives and engineers settled on the 7-inch design as the perfect starting point. A 5-inch screen-like on Dell's first Streak device-is too small to get the full tablet experience, he said. In addition, RIM's focus on the enterprise for its device meant that a 10-inch screen would be too large for many businesspeople-a salesman will want to be able to comfortably hold the device in one hand, for example.

RIM's enterprise focus also is important when discussing what users will want to do with the tablet, Heit said. Tablets such as the iPad, Motorola's Xoom and Samsung's Galaxy Tab are aimed at consumers, but they're making their way into the corporate world, part of the larger trend of consumer products crossing over into the commercial space. RIM wanted to ensure that the enterprise-level security that corporations expect from the company's BlackBerry smartphones were present in the PlayBook, but also that the device would fit easily in a user's personal life. Unlike smartphones, people will not want to carry multiple tablets around to separate the personal from the professional, he said. The PlayBook would have to be able to work in both worlds, with enterprise-level features and such consumers aspects as an intuitive UI and a wide choice of applications.

"We're really talking about a lifestyle [device]," Heit said.

RIM is about to enter an increasingly competitive market, with just about every smartphone and PC maker looking to get a share of the growing tablet space that was reinvigorated when Apple introduced its first iPad a year ago. Apple, which on March 11 launched the iPad 2, saw its market share drop from 93 percent in the third quarter of 2010 to 73 percent in the fourth quarter, thanks to increased competition, according to market research firm IDC.

Analyst firms are predicting high demand for tablets. Morgan Stanley in February raised its forecast for 2012 to 100 million units. Given that, Apple can expect more competition on the way, with a host of new tablet introductions on the horizon. Heit declined to talk about a release date for the PlayBook, but industry speculation is that it will roll out either later this month or in April.

RIM officials expect their corporate focus to help differentiate the PlayBook from other tablet offerings. BlackBerry smartphones have been the device of choice for enterprises for several years, and RIM is looking to leverage that access. Heit noted that there are about 50 million BlackBerry users worldwide, and a goal of the PlayBook is to give businesses a tablet option with the same enterprise-level security, management and performance capabilities.

The PlayBook will support RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server technology for greater security and management, will be able to link with a BlackBerry via a secure Bluetooth connection to access such applications as e-mail, address book and calendar, and will use the QNX operating system. The tablet will offer high-definition video-conferencing capabilities, will be able to work with any smartphone that is being used as a mobile hotspot, and later will offer native e-mail, calendar and address book applications for those users who don't also use a BlackBerry.

Given their experience with the BlackBerry devices, the response from corporations to the PlayBook has been strong, Heit said.

"You don't have to pitch it to them," he said. "They're asking, -When can I get it?'"

At the SAP event, Heit showed off a few demo business applications, including one that shows the layout of a retail store. Through the PlayBook, it will be easier for retailers to determine when an item is doing large numbers of sales and when it needs to be restocked.

The size is best suited for business as well, he said. Heit said that he recently met with a large enterprise customer to pitch the PlayBook as a business tool. The door to the meeting room was locked, so while waiting for someone with a key to arrive, Heit said he took out the PlayBook, turned it on and walked the customer through the presentation. Because of the 7-inch screen, Heit could hold it in one hand while gesturing with the other, while at the same time the customer could clearly see the screen. The meeting was done by the time the person with the key arrived.

"We were able to do the whole thing in the hallway," he said, noting that it would have been much more difficult to do that with a traditional laptop.