When Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of Research in Motion, walked on to the stage at the Web 2.0 Summit earlier today, he disappointed some folks, myself included. I really wanted him to be carrying a BlackBerry Playbook, the widely-touted but yet-to-be-seen tablet computer that's expected to be released early next year.
When asked if he'd brought one, Balsillie turned his head as if to look backstage for someone to bring one out, but instead turned back and said, "You're going to see one very very soon."
RIM clearly is putting much of its bets on the Playbook and even hinted that the advanced technology could be something that would find itself in a handheld device down the road. He was asked by someone in the audience, quite simply, how soon until RIM "push the envelope" on smartphones. In his answer, which was more of a non-answer because he said he wouldn't comment on future products, he elaborated on the idea of taking a Playbook model and shrinking it to the size of something that can be held up the ear. "It's not the hardest thing in the world to do," he said about the idea.
Balsillie speaks with a tone of authority, confident in his words and not afraid to make some declarations or even push some buttons. All day, there have been references to Apple, Steve Jobs and the company's products. Clearly, it's the one to beat on multiple fronts. So when he was asked right out of the gate what he would say to Steve Jobs if here were sitting there on-stage with him, he replied:
The first thing I would say is you finally showed up. I don't know how you can just sit back and say things and .... "
Surely, he had an end to that sentence in mind when he opened his mouth but chose to clam up and jump into a new thought, probably realizing that guys like me were taking down his words.
That doesn't mean he stopped jabbing and Jobs and company right away, though. Instead, he kicked off with a belief mobile can come to the web with some control point of an SDK. Balsillie said he believes that developers should be able to use their existing tools to build and publish apps without having to write any native code.
For a moment, the conversation centered around the idea of rejecting the "appification of the Web." He said: "There's this element about how many web sites need to be repurposed to mobile and you need a special set of tools because there's no other way. We don't believe that to be true."
The example that drives home his statement that "The web doesn't need to be an app" is the YouTube example. "You don't need a YouTube app to access YouTube on a mobile device," he said.
He spoke of the current transformation, a shift toward mobile - and not just smartphones, but also tablets. There's pent-up demand for a BlackBerry tablet product in the enterprise. CIOs, he said, are being confronted with all of these changes and, while they need to adapt, they need something that can offer an enterprise-grade product.
At the end of the day, a product that has the blessing of the enterprise - something that's enterprise-ready and enterprise-secure - is still what matters.
A video clip from this conversation will be available later this week. We’ll embed it when the conference organizers release it. A livestream of the events is being made available by conference organizers.