RIM PlayBook Tablet Shows Off Company's Acquisition Strategy

RIM's PlayBook tablet explains several of its recent acquisitions. Less crystal clear is whether its enterprise focus and new OS will lead to a touchdown.

BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion introduced the PlayBook, an enterprise-ready tablet device, at its DevCon conference Sept. 27, and several puzzle pieces quickly clicked into place, as RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie promised they would, during a June 24 conference call on the company's 2011 first-quarter earnings.

"I think [media consumption] ... is poised for redefinition," Balsillie said during the call, adding, "I just wish I could wind the clock forward ... You'll say, -I get it now.' When you see the pieces come together you'll say, -Now I see what they were doing'."

Among the pieces sliding together are RIM's April acquisition of QNX Software Systems, from Harman International, as the PlayBook runs an operating system based on QNX technology - not the BlackBerry 6 OS that RIM launched this summer, on the BlackBerry Torch, with much fanfare.

The PlayBook, which features a 7-inch display, WiFi connectivity (3G is available through a user's BlackBerry smartphone) 1GB of RAM and a 1GB dual-core processor for reportedly "full computing power," offers full office document support, which ABI Research, in a Sept. 27 report, points out is "making more sense" of RIM's recent acquisitions, of DataViz and Documents to Go.

"Laptop? What Laptop?" RIM asks on its Website, suggesting users no longer need such a thing. Whether this will more frequently be the case, as the tablet craze takes on increasing momentum, remains to be seen.

For a look at the BlackBerry PlayBook, please click here.

"Differentiation in the tablet market will soon become intensely difficult as a variety of similar-looking slates hit the market with common operating platforms and services," ABI Analyst Kevin Burden said in the report. "Building to the performance requirements of the enterprise will continue to be RIM's key differentiator that even consumers recognize."

The consumer-geared Apple iPad has of course been the tablet to beat - or at least match - but creating an "iPad killer" is hardly a goal RIM needs to trouble itself with, analyst Ken Hyers, with Technology Business Research, told eWEEK, as RIM's target audience is enterprises running the BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

"[RIM] really has the market to itself. There's little chance, in my opinion, that this will be a runaway best seller, but I don't think it necessarily needs to be. If it catches on with the enterprise as a genuine productivity tool in the same way that the BlackBerry has, it will be a positive development for RIM," Hyers said.

Analyst Neil Mawston, with Strategy Analytics, likewise sees RIM differentiating the PlayBook by positioning it for the enterprise space - but such a strategy won't necessarily equal blockbuster sales, Mawston warns.

"This first-generation PlayBook should be popular among BlackBerry smartphone fans but it may struggle to sell in big volumes, due to it having no 3G connectivity to attract mobile operator subsidies, using a new operating system that is unfamiliar to many developers and consumers, and due to relatively limited app store support," Mawston told eWEEK.

Its name could also prove a barrier, if not a road bump.

"The PlayBook sub-brand will resonate well among sports fans in North America," said the U.K.-based Mawston, "but many consumers in the rest of the world will not be familiar with the term and they may be wondering why a serious -work' device has the term -Play' in its name. The PlayBook is a useful step forward for RIM but it is not yet an iPad killer."

Apple aside, the more important issue for RIM, added TBR's Hyers, is whether the PlayBook's QNX operating system will prove good enough to eventually replace the BlackBerry 6 OS.

"If so," explains Hyers, "it will be an interesting development to see a more capable tablet OS become a smartphone OS, rather than a less capable smartphone OS becoming a tablet OS, as has happened with the iPad and Android tablets."

RIM has shared details about the PlayBook on its Website, as well as its newly launched Inside BlackBerry for Business blog, but pricing and release-date information are still to come.