All eyes will be on Research In Motion’s PlayBook launch this week as the tablet makes its way into the hands of consumers and enterprises in particular. RIM started taking pre-orders back in March, with the PlayBook due to hit store shelves in the U.S. and Canada starting tomorrow.
The device, which initially ships with Wi-Fi only connectivity (a 4G model is due this summer for Sprint), has received mixed reviews thus far. RIM’s strong suit, however, is the enterprise, and that’s where many observers expect it to make a dent. How big a dent remains to be seen.
Bzur Haun, president and CEO of Visage Mobile, says 77 percent of Visage Mobile’s 150,000+ enterprise customers still rely on BlackBerry as their smartphone of choice. RIM products are attractive to businesses because they offer more security and a business-friendly platform.
“The future of computing at corporations, as we see it, is employee access to enterprise applications on smartphones and tablets and RIM might have the advantage,” Haun says. “Whether the Playbook or the iPad, access to these business applications can spur great gains in productivity. Tablets will then become essential to the enterprise, while IT must continue to support an array of operating systems and balance employee flexibility in device choice, with cost, management and support.”
Those companies that adopt an effective, programmatic approach to managing tablets, like the RIM Playbook, will gain a competitive advantage, Haun says.
IBM plans to support the PlayBook’s “grand entrance” into business computing with its software applications, including its cloud-based productivity suite, Connections, and Notes social business software. “When it comes to the PlayBook, IBM’s value add is understanding the apps around social business and understanding the security requirements and demands put on them,” says Kevin Cavanaugh, vice president, Business and Technical Strategy, at IBM.
The biggest source of angst among CIOs with tablets has been whether these personal devices – when managers, for example, bring their new gadgets into the enterprise – create a security vulnerability within the company. A lot of attention has been focused on the iPhone and iPad because they’re marketed as consumer devices and especially with the iPhone, there’s a history of jailbreaking.
Cavanaugh sees each of the major operating systems competing in slightly different ways. Apple has a consumer focus, and every CIO he’s spoken with has had the experience of a boss or colleague who wants to bring their iPad into the enterprise. Android by nature is a more open platform, which is a double-edged sword when it comes to IT departments, but it allows for them to add more security features. RIM still holds the advantage when it comes to ready-made security policies around BlackBerry; people trust the devices and infrastructure around them.
But not everyone is throwing their support behind the PlayBook right out of the gate. Scott Michaels, vice president/client services at Atimi Software, says the PlayBook reminds him a lot of RIM’s release of the first Storm – a response to a market need for a touch screen but much later that Apple’s product.
Most of his clients – both on the enterprise and consumer sides – are taking a wait-and-see approach to the PlayBook before they put a lot of dollars into developing for it.
Atimi’s clients include Johnson & Johnson, ESPN, HBO and the Vancouver Canucks, to name a few.
The value for a brand in creating a PlayBook app might lie in the fact it would be a big fish in a small pond – easier to get noticed among the relatively small number of apps geared for the tablet, he says. If you want to be on as many platforms as possible, then it makes sense. But you have to be a much more technologically savvy person, even among tech circles, to develop for the PlayBook than iOS, for example.
It doesn’t appear as though RIM is making it too easy for developers, even with the added support for Android apps. The native development environment for the PlayBook is QNX – completely different from the BlackBerry OS, so you can’t just port your BlackBerry app over. As for Android, RIM’s support is for Android 2.3, not the 3.0 version optimized for the tablet, Michaels notes.
BlackBerry World takes place May 3-5 in Orlando, Fla., so maybe by then, RIM will have some new incentives for developers.