RIM PlayBook Faces Crowded Tablet Market, iPad Enterprise Use

RIM's PlayBook will face an ever-more-crowded tablet market in 2011, with challenges from Google, Windows and Apple's iPad.

Research In Motion co-CEO Mike Lazaridis seemed a bit laissez-faire at times during his Dec. 7 talk at the D: Dive Into Mobile conference, in San Francisco.

When asked whether he viewed Apple and Google as competitive threats in the enterprise space, traditionally the bastion of RIM's BlackBerry franchise, he reportedly said: "Today, we have several car manufacturers out there. We're going to find the same thing with smartphones."

But it's the enterprise tablet market that could end up giving RIM the biggest headaches. During his conference talk, Lazaridis suggested that the QNX-based operating system behind his company's upcoming PlayBook would eventually influence BlackBerry smartphones.

"By focusing on the tablet market, we see an opportunity to free where the smartphone can go," he said. "When we have multi-core processors across the board, they'll all be running the PlayBook platform."

The PlayBook will reportedly hit the market during the first quarter of 2011. However, RIM's attempt to become a player in the tablet market-then using that tablet architecture to revitalize its BlackBerry line-could backfire if the company finds itself squeezed by an ever-greater number of competitors.

"Apple defined the tablet space. RIM hasn't been very competitive with smartphones against Apple and they had a massive lead," Rob Enderle, principal analyst of the Enderle Group, told eWEEK Nov. 30. "With tablets they are starting behind."

Apple's iPad is far from the only competitor. Samsung's Galaxy Tab and the Dell Streak are but two of what many analysts expect to be a flood of Android tablets entering the market over the next several quarters. In addition, Hewlett-Packard has released one tablet running Windows 7, and is widely expected to start producing devices that run a modified version of its recently acquired Palm WebOS.

Although aimed primarily at consumers, devices such as the iPad are finding their way into the enterprise. According to an October research note from Gartner, tablet PC sales could increase from 19.4 million units in 2010 to 54.7 million in 2011, then 103.4 million in 2012, and 208 million in 2014. Companies ranging from Toshiba and Lenovo to Fujitsu and Asus are already preparing their own offerings that leverage Intel's architecture.

"The consumer [tablet] products will roll out over the first half of next year," Intel CEO Paul Otellini told analysts in a Dec. 8 talk at the Barclays Capital Global Technology Conference, in San Francisco, according to Reuters. Those tablets would run Google Android, Meego and Windows.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has indicated that his company will leverage Intel's upcoming Oak Trail processors, due in 2011, for its big push into the tablet space. "Oak Trail is designed to be lower power," he told analysts assembled for this summer's Financial Analyst Meeting. "Lower power is good in a lot of ways. It leads to longer battery life, no fan, lower noise levels, a lot less weight-a lot of things people like."

It could also lead to a proliferation in Windows tablets-and that would introduce another complication for RIM as it seeks to establish a tablet beachhead.