RIM duly unveiled its PlayBook (aka BlackPad) wireless tablet this week, as reported here, without quite explaining why anyone would buy it. However, it does take the first step towards establishing QNX as the new BlackBerry operating system for smartphones as well as tablets, as I said last week. Also, PlayBook sales will represent new money for Research in Motion: it’s not a phone, yet, and the company doesn’t have any netbook, notebook or MP3 player sales to lose. (3G and 4G versions of the PlayBook will appear later.)
The PlayBook press release highlights its advantages over Apple’s iPhone and iPad, saying:
Perfect for either large organizations or an "army of one", the BlackBerry PlayBook is designed to give users what they want, including uncompromised web browsing, true multitasking and high performance multimedia, while also providing advanced security features, out-of-the-box enterprise support and a breakthrough development platform for IT departments and developers. The incredibly powerful and innovative BlackBerry PlayBook is truly a game-changing product in the growing tablet marketplace.
The “uncompromised web browsing” includes Adobe Flash, which is heavily used on the web, and support for Adobe Mobile AIR, as well as HTML5. In other words, you can access the same web that you get on a notebook or netbook PC. And since the PlayBook has far more power than an iPad – a dual-core ARM processor and 1GB or four times as much memory as an iPad – RIM does not have to cripple the features to maintain performance.
It doesn’t look as though the PlayBook will get the same volume of apps as Android or Apple’s iOS. According to a recent IDC survey, 62% of apps developers expressed strong interest in Android, which compares with 58% for the iPad at a similar stage. However, IDC says “new research shows webOS and BlackBerry tablets currently have little interest from developers (16% for both).” It will therefore depend on companies either developing their own apps, or deploying them on the web.
Apart from that, the PlayBook’s main appeal could be to the user base of 50 million BlackBerry smartphone users. They can pair their tablet to their phone using a secure Bluetooth connection to read their email, documents and any other content that is on or available through their phone, only on a bigger screen. “They can also use their tablet and smartphone interchangeably without worrying about syncing or duplicating data,” says RIM. (Data is only cached on the tablet.) It’s a real cloud-based system: unlike Apple, it’s not still stuck on synchronising things with PCs.
Although it’s fashionable for Apple supporters to knock RIM nowadays, the company isn’t doing too badly. In Western Europe in this year’s second quarter, IDC put the company third in the branded smartphone market with an 18% market share, just behind Apple (19%), with Nokia (40%) by far the market leader. Also, RIM increased its sales by 117%, which was better than either Apple (65%) or Nokia (16%).
On a worldwide basis, Gartner reckons that RIM’s sales increased from 7.8m to 11.2m units in the second quarter, giving it 18.2% of the smartphone market. Gartner also reckons RIM lost 0.8 percentage points of market share, but that wasn’t bad when Android’s market share exploded from 1.8% to 17.2%. Even Apple only gained 1.2 points to 14.2% in the quarter.
In its latest financial results (PDF), declared on September 16, RIM’s revenues came in slightly higher than expected at $4.62 billion, with profits of $797 million, and it shipped more than 12 million BlackBerrys for the first time.
Will the PlayBook be a success? It’s impossible to say without having any idea how the interface actually works, some idea of how it’s going to be distributed, or the price. The most that we can say is that RIM still has enough market share, brand recognition, marketing experience and cash to give it a go.
This story was originally posted on Wednesday, Septermber 29.