RIM's big bet: Can the PlayBook future proof the company?

RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie says the PlayBook tablet is going to be the most important launch since the first BlackBerry. He's rewriting the "underpromise and overdeliver" CEO game plan.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Research in Motion is promoting a no-compromise strategy with the PlayBook tablet and arguing that the device is going to be the most important launch since the first BlackBerry.

RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie said that the PlayBook and its QNX operating system, which will support Android and BlackBerry Java apps, will set a product upgrade cycle that will lead to more tablets and superphones.

Listening to Balsillie talk about the PlayBook you couldn't help but wonder what happens if the tablet flops. Balsillie predicted a "highly successful" launch and "enterprise greatness," but the company declined to project units. RIM has 4G tablets and phones planned. "You'll see why we're bullish on the company," said Balsillie on an earnings conference call. “Will be the most significant development for RIM since the launch of the first BlackBerry. Being a no compromise device matters."


Nothing like promising the Holy Grail for the tablet market. Here's a look at why RIM thinks the PlayBook will be an important launch:

  • CIOs are on board with the PlayBook. “A good portion of Fortune 500 will receive PlayBooks for review,” said Balsillie. CIOs want 10s of thousands of PlayBooks to evaluate.
  • The PlayBook will support multiple environments such as Android and Java.
  • And RIM's no compromise pitch will win in the market.

The rub: RIM is in a transition period in the first quarter. Balsillie plugged BlackBerry World in May and said that BlackBerry OS 6.1 will be a transition to QNX devices in early calendar 2012.

Balsillie thinks the PlayBook will lead to a QNX operating system and architecture that's future proof.

Simply put, RIM is betting the company on the PlayBook and is prepping for a lot of units. "We feel this is the winner. Get it out as soon as possible, but make it stable," said Balsillie. The game plan revolves around the PlayBook driving sales for RIM and new BlackBerry devices. Balsillie talked superphones. "Your jaw will drop," he said.

Balsillie is playing up RIM's product roadmap, but in many respects is just raises expectations. In one swoop, Balsillie nuked the typical "underpromise, overdeliver" game plan of most CEOs. RIM devices haven't been able to generate buzz for quarters. Balsillie said that RIM has solved for the app ecosystem and new devices.

Ultimately, the PlayBook bet revolves around whether you think Balsillie's bluster is believable.

The flip side of the argument and big concerns:

  • Can RIM manage multiple platforms on one tablet? In many respects, RIM's approach sounds like virtualization. While the PlayBook's versatility may be impressive, others could view it as a Frankentablet.
  • Why would developers both with Java apps for BlackBerry when they can just work on Android?
  • How will RIM manage the BlackBerry OS 6.1 transition? We all know QNX devices are coming so why not wait?
  • Is RIM's roadmap good enough to put it ahead of Android rivals and Apple? The company needs a leapfrog.
  • If RIM's new products don't deliver the company could be facing a lost fiscal year with margins falling at a rapid clip.

Bottom line: There are definitive answers here, but Balsillie certainly raised the expectations for the PlayBook.

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