The key question that seems to be cropping up amongst those of us who pontificate about mobile devices is how much market share RIM’s PlayBook is likely to steal from Apple’s iPad. So I’ll answer that question right up front-not much.
But that doesn’t mean the PlayBook won’t sell well, because I think it will. It just means that the PlayBook and the iPad aren’t really competing in the same game.
Yes, I understand that they’re both tablets and that you can do a lot of cool things on them that you can’t do with a smartphone or even with a laptop computer. And, yes, I understand that the iPad proved that tablets were a viable format. But what the iPad didn’t do was prove that it could be a compelling enterprise computing or communications platform. While the iPad does include some business-oriented functions, and while it can be made fairly secure, it doesn’t match BlackBerry Enterprise Server in meeting the critical needs of the enterprise.
And, of course, this is why the PlayBook has a very good chance at succeeding in its intended market, regardless of what happens to the iPad. The PlayBook, quite frankly, isn’t an iPad wanna-be; it’s a business tablet that will support some consumer functions, which is exactly the opposite of what the iPad is designed to be.
When you look at RIM’s presentation on the PlayBook, you’ll notice that it is filled with business-related cues, ranging from the front page of The Wall Street Journal and a PowerPoint presentation, to the United Airlines flight-confirmation page. There are no games and no music chat, for instance. In addition, while the PlayBook does support the ability to play music, and while it does support two cameras, one on the front and one on the rear, they’re presented as solutions to video conferencing or imaging.
Clearly, while RIM wants you to see exactly how cool its tablet is, they don’t want you to think of it as frivolous. The PlayBook-despite the name-isn’t designed for play at all. In fact, I would suggest that the name refers to the complex play books that National Football League teams use to prepare their game plans, rather than to some kind of appliance for playing video games.
While there are a lot of things that the PlayBook doesn’t do, there are also some things that only the PlayBook-out of all the tablets being launched right now-can do. Most notably it includes support for Blackberry Enterprise Server. No other tablet offers that. The device also supports the full gamut of 802.11 flavors, so it should work in most offices just fine.
Price, App Selection Key Factors for PlayBook Success
Notably, the RIM device does not support 3G communications. Instead, the PlayBook is designed to link seamlessly to a BlackBerry using Bluetooth and then use the BlackBerry as its path to 3G and eventually 4G. This allows RIM to escape a host of problems that plague the iPad, which is still stuck with AT&T as its 3G carrier. It also allows the PlayBook to work anywhere there’s 3G of any sort, regardless of carrier, as long as the user’s BlackBerry can access it.
At this point, the Bluetooth connection to reach a 3G network seems to be unique to BlackBerrys. The company has not said that it would allow the use of other smartphones for this, although it would seem that portable WiFi hot spots, such as in the Droid X from Verizon Wireless, would also provide a path to 3G.
From a marketing standpoint, this means that any carrier can sell the PlayBook along with their BlackBerrys, and Verizon Wireless and Sprint can sell it along with their smartphones that provide WiFi links. As is the case with the BlackBerry itself, there’s no benefit to RIM to offer the PlayBook exclusively through any carrier.
But of course, all of this is no guarantee of success. The PlayBook runs QNX, an operating system that’s totally unlike the BlackBerry OS, and as a result won’t run any of the dozens of applications in the BlackBerry app store. On the other hand, QNX is an open-source operating system, so there’s plenty of reason to believe that application development will take place. The real question then becomes, how much and how soon?
One area that’s already hurting BlackBerry sales is the skimpy selection of applications available from RIM. This is offset, to some extent, because you don’t need to get your apps there; anyone can write an application for a BlackBerry and send it directly. You aren’t restricted to what’s in the app store as you are with Apple. But it still remains to be seen if there will be a robust applications market for the PlayBook.
The other major factor is price. If the PlayBook is about the same price as the iPad and the Android tablets, it will probably sell. If it’s slightly cheaper, which it should be since it doesn’t include a 3G radio, sales will be better. But if RIM prices it too high, the PlayBook will die right there in the BlackBerry store. There’s too much competition right now to hit the market with a high-priced option-unless your name is “Apple.” And by design, the PlayBook is no Apple device, and that’s a good thing, as long as it’s not priced as if it were.