This week provided a chance to tour Research In Motion's annual BlackBerry World conference in Orlando. Now in its 10th year, the event usually focuses on RIM's fleet of smart phones. This time, much of the spotlight was on the company's new tablet, the half-business, half-pleasure PlayBook, aimed at enterprises and consumers.
Since dozens of RIM's partner firms set up display booths, BlackBerry World presented the opportunity to look at small and medium-sized Canadian businesses doing interesting things with the new generation of tablet computers, such as PlayBooks and iPads.
In past installations of this series, we've seen how non-tech businesses can supplement the work they do with tablets. In this edition, we look at a case study of a small Canadian tech company that's making tablets its business.
If you own a smart phone and like to hunt down nearby restaurants, movie theatres or events, you've probably heard of Poynt. The Calgary-based app maker has about 45 employees, but it has built a seven-million-user following in North America, Europe and Australia.
The company partners with a number of firms, including Yellow Pages, to let users perform location-based search, taking advantage of GPS functionality that's on most new smart phones. The tool is in many ways similar to services such as Yelp, although Poynt relies more on presenting results that are close to where the user is at any given moment, whereas services such as Yelp try to leverage user-generated reviews to rate restaurants or other businesses in a particular city.
Until now, it hasn't been clear why any company that designed a smart phone app should go through the trouble of making a new one for tablets. Indeed, many firms have simply ported their existing smart phone apps to tablets, without changing all that much. For the iPad and Android-powered tablets, Poynt simply used the versions they previously created for the iPhone and Android-powered phones respectively. But for the PlayBook, Poynt decided to design a tailor-made app.
"The advantage and disadvantage of developing for the tablet really boiled down to the same thing - the screen real estate," says Margaret Glover-Campbell, Poynt's Vice-President of Marketing. "The opportunity lies in being able to deliver an even more compelling visual and [user interface]experience for the app. The flip side is trying to remain true to an established brand and [user interface]users have come to expect from the smaller screen."
For a company like Poynt, the tablet's bigger screen size has several key advantages. For one thing, the app allows users to watch movie trailers when they search for nearby theatres - something that's a lot more pleasant on a larger screen.
But tablets tend to be a little more cumbersome for tasks such as voice communication - especially the PlayBook, which won't have cellular connectivity until a new version comes out this summer. As such, Poynt decided to do something a little bit different. They designed their tablet app to essentially bridge the gap between tablet and smart phone.
On the Poynt PlayBook app, a business search often returns the contact info of that business, including phone number, since many traditional businesses like plumbing and auto repair shops still don't have much of a Web presence. Thanks to a feature on the app, a user can send that contact info directly to their BlackBerry. A few seconds later, a prompt shows up on the smart phone screen asking the user if they want to call that phone number.
Having just launched the PlayBook app in the past few weeks, it's still difficult to tell how successful Poynt's device-pairing strategy - itself similar to RIM's PlayBook-BlackBerry pairing strategy - will be. However the company may have come up with an early blueprint for other firms looking to establish a compelling app presence on both smart phones and tablets, especially if consumers end up thinking of tablets as companion, rather than exclusive, devices.