Mobile Observatory: With the PlayBook, RIM Can Play to Win Both the Enterprise and Consumer

By Tony Rizzo

Back in the pre-launch Blackberry Torch days, as my BlackBerry Curve was winding down its useful life, I was sorely tempted by both the iPhone and the iPad. Tempted yes, but I didn’t cross the line, at least on the iPhone side - I picked up a Torch, and though I can never imagine going back to a non-touch screen device ever again, the real keyboard has made me a happy camper many times over. I can’t live without it.

Now…the PlayBook – could it make me an even happier camper (having earlier totally convinced myself I was going to get an iPad)?

Going strictly on first looks (and strictly ‘don’t touch, just look’ first looks) I confess I am intrigued by it. RIM’s new QNX operating system has a very fast feel to it, does true multitasking, supports Adobe’s Flash, the screen is visually solid, and the 7″ form factor is most decidedly not dead on arrival (defying Steve Jobs’ prediction of several months ago – all the more interesting now that Apple is rumored to be getting a smaller iPad into the market).

I had been absolutely sure I was getting an iPad. In fact, absolutely nothing has been keeping me from getting one…and yet, I haven’t. I can’t help but believe there are many millions of other BlackBerry users (especially enterprise BlackBerry users) out there doing the same thing…waiting to compare hands on, head to head, waiting to see what iPad version 2 will bring to the game (a retinal quality display maybe?) and how the PlayBook will stack up…

Will it Take Long?

The big question here is how long will RIM need to finalize the hardware designs, fully tame QNX, and get the PlayBook out the door – with apps in hand? Early Q3 2011 is a date I’ve heard, but one that is a long way off, especially when viewed in ‘mobile time.’ The 2010 holiday season would have been the ideal launch timeframe for the PlayBook from a competitive standpoint.

Though absence makes the heart grow fonder, the problem I forsee in waiting for a true head to head is that it may never come. Patience eventually wears thin and runs out. The majority of early iPad users are a done deal…they aren’t going back. If iPad v2 emerges, possibly offering a smaller form factor and a retinal display as an option, will it create another groundswell of interest – and purchases? All predictions point that way. Meanwhile, the healthcare industry is going to be awash in iPads. It’s not a mystery why financial analysts think what they think about Apple and RIM.

Strictly on paper it appears fairly easy to gauge if the PlayBook will have a fighting chance.

Fortunately the world doesn’t play off of paper.

Enterprise IT – Slow to Move, but Should Love the PlayBook

The PlayBook clearly has its consumer chops in place. I don’t believe (again, based on the show and tells I’ve seen) that there is anything missing here as far as delivering a compelling end user experience. QNX is a major step forward for the BlackBerry user (I’m already looking to the day BlackBerry smartphones begin running on it). Delighting the end user is a key checklist item that I believe RIM will prove to have nailed down.

Here’s the other critical thing though – when the PlayBook launches it will be BES-ready; this is a huge feature as it means the PlayBook will be solidly enterprise ready and secure out of the box.

That is what enterprise IT likes to hear. Those IT folks also like to tap into their typically deep understandings of any given IT issue – they know their BES environments and their BlackBerries. QNX-based PlayBooks slotting into BES will be like comfort food for enterprise IT (sure, it’s a new operating system, but RIM has insured that IT doesn’t have to worry about it relative to BES).

That begs the question: RIM, will you be able and willing to primarily exploit your enterprise strengths to drive enterprise sales of the PlayBook?

I am in the camp that believes firmly that if you win the enterprise you will win the consumer; I’m not in the camp that believes in the other way around – win the consumer (through consumer-side focus) and they’ll regain you the enterprise. I believe enterprise IT (and other management stakeholders) will be willing to wait for a device that is already highly secure and would be very willing to help get the PlayBook message across to their workforce users.

Of course, if Apple creates yet another groundswell with a lighter weight, retinal quality iPad in Q1 2011, employee demands for its support may put a great deal of pressure in place to ‘go iPad’ yet again.

IT, and senior management teams in general, have to balance those iPad pressures against leaving sizable BES environments and BES long term investments stranded. RIM needs to deliver an enterprise message that says, in effect: ‘Hang tight, we’ll give your users highly desireable PlayBooks, and we’ll preserve your significant investments in BES and MDS) infrastructure.

Size Will,  in Fact, Matter

I ride a commuter train approximately 3 hours a day round trip. For a long time I toyed with getting a Kindle (on my evening commute I want to read my books), but stayed with my Curve instead (and hardcovers!). The commute, in fact, is why I became convinced that I would acquire an iPad (Kindle…iPad – there wasn’t going to be any competition there once the iPad emerged). Keep the Torch for email and communication, use the iPad on the train.

Over the last several months I’ve had an opportunity to use a 3G iPad on my rides - in fact it has gone head to head with the Torch. Aside from reading novels (which in fact I haven’t really done much of yet) the Torch has continued to win out in head to head competition, even as iPad newspaper apps are emerging.

That is, I actually greatly prefer using my Torch a great deal more than the iPad during my commute for reading text of any kind. I’ve traced it down to size – for my commuting needs I don’t really need that 9.7″ form factor. I’m thinking that I will find the 7″ PlayBook (which will be initially 3G enabled) much more to my liking.

My (and everyone else’s) only problem is that July 2011 is a long time to wait (but then I did wait two years for my Torch to finally show up). More than likely I’ll be able to play with an early version, as will enterprises, but my best estimate even for that is February 2011.

Still, my gut feeling – and recommendation – is that the PlayBook will be worth waiting for. Especially within the context of preserving all of that highly secure IT investment in BES/MDS infrastructure.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know your thoughts on this!

Tony Rizzo has been involved in high-tech since 1978, and was a pioneer student-user of e-mail in the early 1980s at NYU’s Courant Institute, when the Internet was still known as Arpanet. He’s had, and continues to have, numerous mobile lives. Tony feels very fortunate to always be slightly ahead of the tech curve, whether as an educator, an editor-in-chief or a pioneer mobility analyst.

No Comments on "Mobile Observatory: With the PlayBook, RIM Can Play to Win Both the Enterprise and Consumer"

  1. Colin says:

    Hi Tony.

    I think there are still some unanswered questions as to whether or not IT will ‘love’ the PlayBook (I am not sure what “supports BES out of the box” actually means). As far as enterprise applications go, it seems odd to me that RIM is pushing Adobe Air and Flash for a supposedly ‘enterprise-focused’ tablet. I don’t know how relevant that is to the enterprise space – what about a native SDK?

    It looks to me like RIM is focusing more on ‘winning the consumer’ first and addressing the enterprise side second – contrary to your belief. I guess we’ll see how it turns out for them. Either way, I’m looking forward to getting my hands on one!


    • Tony Rizzo says:

      Hi Colin – It’s the same question with Microsoft – are they going to play the consumer hand first or go with the enterprise? I can only HOPE that both RIM and Microsoft don’t waste their precious time and resources on the consumer market first. They need to concentrate exactly on proving they are the serious enterprise players.

      That said, the devices still need to deliver delightful user experiences so that the enterprise users choose to use them for play as well.

      No doubt there are unanswered questions, as youpoint out. If RIM chooses to play the enterprise card then we’ll get those answers (at least that is my hope).

      The irony here will be if, should RIM/Microsoft try going consumer first, Apple then makes a strong move to the enterprise (I think they have serious motiviation to do so). Interesting time ahead!

      What’s your take on 7″ vs 9.7″?


      • Colin says:

        It’s a difficult decision – do you design a device that appeals to consumer side first and build the enterprise ‘hooks’ in later like Apple has .. or .. do you take the RIM strategy and do the enterprise integration first?

        As for tablet size – I honestly can’t tell you what I believe consumers prefer because I don’t know. I think it really depends on content consumption – which varies depending on the user. If I want to watch video, I’ll sacrifice portability for a larger screen size.

        If anything, it gives us choice – which benefits me as a consumer.

  2. I completely agree with Tony.

    I work in the enterprise environment and I see that most of the employees carry blackberry around for meetings and conferences and use it heavily for emailing. I don’t see any reason why blackberry shouldn’t be able to sell both phone and playbook to the same set of consumers given the fact that it’s easy to carry 7 inch playbook to meetings and the same work of checking and replying to emails and running any enterprise applications can be done more productively using Playbook.
    Also QNX seems to be much more advanced than competition. Also Blackberry is making it enterprise ready.
    Acquiring ‘Astonishing Tribe’ was a smart move by RIM. If you see the recent demo videos the applications done by this UI company for RIM is just amazing. It’s comparable if not better than Apple’s applications.
    Also if and when QNX OS becomes available for Blackberries smart phones it should be a huge hit. I hope they will drop the term storm and use some other term for the next line of fully touch screen storm like device.

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