Research In Motion is working on a tablet computer - a device once thought to be mainly a vehicle for consumer entertainment, but is now of serious interest to the corporate world.
The Waterloo, Ont., smart-phone maker is planning to introduce a tablet in November, according to Bloomberg News. The device would be roughly the same size as the Apple iPad and would come with Wi-Fi capability, the news agency said, citing sources familiar with the company.
Deloitte technology analyst Duncan Stewart said in an interview on Friday that he has heard from several people close to the company that RIM is working on a tablet.
Industry speculation about a RIM tablet increased recently after online technology blogs reported the company had purchased the domain name "blackpad.com." Previously, the buzz was that RIM would opt for an "in-between" device, larger than a traditional smart phone but smaller than the iPad.
RIM's foray into the tablet market - where it would have to compete not only with Apple but also with software manufacturers such as Google and hardware manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard - comes at a time when views and expectations about such mobile devices are changing.
Mr. Stewart said that he initially believed next-generation tablets such as the iPad would sell in sizable numbers, but mainly in the consumer segment. At first, Apple positioned its iPad as a consumer device, with a secondary emphasis on its usefulness as a business productivity tool. But in the company's most recent quarterly earnings conference call, Apple executives noted that half the Fortune 100 companies are currently either using or testing iPads.
"We are hearing about hospitals looking at [the iPad] universities looking at it, companies using it in their retail kiosks," Mr. Stewart noted.
"Our view now is that in three or four years, the tablet market will be 30- to 40-per-cent enterprise."
If that prediction proves true, RIM may be able to leverage its significant advantage in the enterprise smart-phone market to make a tablet product work.
For example, consumers might not be overly interested in how secure their tablet communications are, but hospitals would be. Thus, RIM may be able to lure customers with the network architecture that makes its BlackBerry phones such secure devices, especially when coupled with RIM's proprietary "push" technology that delivers messages from one device to another much faster than many competitors.
"[A RIM tablet]will almost certainly support [Adobe's Flash technology for multimedia] it will almost certainly support multitasking," Mr. Stewart said. "If you look at the four things that drive people nuts about the iPad, it addresses those four things."
If RIM introduces a tablet in the fall, the rest of 2010 would mark perhaps the most important product-development years in the company's history. Next Tuesday, the company is widely expected to unveil its newest BlackBerry and the latest version of its mobile operating system. Both have been reworked to appeal to the consumer market.
The new products come as RIM posts significant growth in its traditional phone business. A research report released Thursday by International Data Corp. showed RIM's phone shipments growing 40 per cent in the second quarter of 2010, compared with the same period a year earlier - the biggest year-over-year percentage growth of the world's top-five mobile phone-makers.
Whether RIM can maintain that growth in the smart-phone market while simultaneously competing in a new category of mobile devices remains to be seen.
"Apple will almost certainly have a large share [of the tablet market]by 2014, but it is unlikely to have more than half, which leaves a lot of a big market for everyone else," Mr. Stewart noted.
"From the hardware manufacturers' side, RIM stands as decent a shot as anyone else."