Research in Motion had a massive advantage in the smart phone market when Apple first launched the iPhone -- and we all know what happened next. RIM has had to withstand that blow against its BlackBerry brand, as well as seeing the Android platform making significant inroads with smart phone buyers. Now that the iPad has jumped out to a big head start in the tablet market, could the rumored RIM tablet, the "BlackPad," play the spoiler against Apple?
According to Bloomberg, the BlackPad will arrive in November sporting the same 9.7-inch form factor as the iPad. RIM's tablet could ship with two big features that the iPad lacks: a pair of cameras -- one front-facing for video chats and one rear-facing; and the ability to tether the tablet to a Blackberry phone so it can gain Internet access when it's out of range of a Wi-Fi network. Of course, the BlackPad would presumably have all of the security features that make RIM the vendor of choice for most enterprises.
There could be some drawbacks to RIM's approach, however. Unlike the iPad, the BlackPad doesn't look like it will be sold with a cellular option (maybe not a big deal if you always have your BlackBerry with you to tether to), and the RIM app store has a fraction of apps that the iPad/iPhone ecosystem possesses. In addition, RIM has trailed Apple in the touchscreen department to date, and while the new BlackBerry OS 6 could rectify many deficiencies, it's still untested. (See a slideshow of new features for it here.) RIM supposedly will price the BlackPad at iPad price points, which means it won't gain any market share from people looking to spend less on a tablet.
As a result, RIM's tablet doesn't look like it will make a big impact in the consumer realm, where cheaper Android-based slates should exert pricing pressure on Apple. But the iPad has opened eyes in the business world, where tablets finally seem like a viable device to be used in the workplace. The BlackPad could prevent the iPad from making bigger inroads with corporations, more and more of which seem to be coming around to accepting the iPhone as an enterprise-worthy device. Getting the jump on Apple in video conferencing using tablets could be RIM's killer app when it launches. The question then becomes how well the BlackPad will fare once the second generation of the iPad hits the scene.