On 20 June, Research In Motion's BlackBerry Playbook will become the first non Android or Apple tablet to enter the Australian market. But will the PlayBook be a fast seller or a failure?
According to the managing director of Optus' Business division, Rob Parcell, there is still a desire from businesses to see the sort of security-conscious IT solution that they already use and understand.
Despite the mass market popularity of the iPhone and Android handsets, there's a huge BlackBerry install base in the business world and the smartphone is still seen by many as being inherently more secure and manageable than rival platforms.
In the Federal Government, for example, the Defence Signals Directorate has not certified most breeds of smartphones as being safe for use at any security level by government workers. The agency's Evaluated Products List, which aids in government purchasing of devices, lists only the BlackBerry and Windows Mobile operating systems as being certified for use.
This may lead to increased interest in the PlayBook, according to Parcell. "They're trading off the BlackBerry there," he said at a press event in Sydney yesterday. However, the Optus executive said that ultimately he didn't believe Optus was yet in a position to predict how the PlayBook would do in Australia, with the tablet market still forming.
In general, Optus Business director of marketing & strategy, Scott Mason, said that up until now, organisations had been faced with a wave of tablets being informally brought into their workplaces by staff — usually the iPad.
However, he noted that the range of tablets available was increasing and that chief information officers had a lot of faith in platforms such as Android, with recent Optus research predicting that most organisations would be issuing tablets to workers over the next three to five years. Those sectors more concerned with security, such as in government and financial services, were more interested in the PlayBook, he said.
Foad Fadaghi, research director at analyst house Telsyte, was more bullish on the PlayBook's uptake.
For starters, the analyst said, the BlackBerry tablet was a differentiated product in what was quite a "noisy" marketplace, with a number of Android tablets hitting Australia in mid-2011, including the Motorola Xoom, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, the Acer Iconia Tab and more.
Fadaghi noted that the PlayBook was selling overall at a lower price point than the market-leading iPad. This was important, the analyst said, as the Android manufacturers had typically priced their devices at the same price point as the iPad or even higher.
The build quality of the PlayBook was good, he added, and RIM plans to build Android app support into the PlayBook's software, which means consumers could take advantage of native BlackBerry apps while not missing out on the growing Android ecosystem. That could also allow RIM to keep the price low, he said, as RIM itself would make a cut of BlackBerry apps sold through its own app store.
In addition, Fadaghi pointed to the fact that many organisations already had existing BlackBerry infrastructure and were comfortable with the manufacturer. This, combined with a broader consumer marketing push from RIM, might see a synergy between the way in which businesses wanted to operate, as well as demand from the workers' side.
"Having said that, we don't think they'll see massive amounts sold, like the iPad," said Fadaghi. But the analyst believed the PlayBook had reasonably good prospects, and the prospects would get better when the 3G version of the tablet is eventually released.