With its new PlayBook, Waterloo, Ont.-based Research In Motion Ltd. seeks a stake in the exploding tablet market. It faces an uphill battle, though, particularly against the Apple iPad, which is already in its second generation and owns a massive chunk of the tablet market. But BlackBerry's popularity in business may incline business types to ignore its competitors and look closely at the PlayBook.
Here are five reasons why a business might consider the PlayBook. And two reasons it might avoid the gadget.
Security: For businesses, security is the key reason to consider the PlayBook instead of the iPad. While Apple is mainly a consumer brand, RIM is business-oriented, and the company has an enviable reputation for secure communications. Features built into BlackBerry devices allow IT administrators to control how the gadgets are used and even to wipe data remotely from lost or stolen ones, says Alec Taylor, vice-president of software, services and enterprise marketing at RIM. The PlayBook provides similar capabilities.
Michael Battista, research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont., says the perception that RIM is miles ahead of Apple on security might be exaggerated. Apple has increasingly addressed the issue, he says.
But in the immediate future, Mr. Battista says, the PlayBook makes a security virtue out of a shortcoming: The tablet must be tethered to a BlackBerry for e-mail and some other functions. This means that if you lose the PlayBook, you haven't lost your data – it's on your BlackBerry. "The PlayBook is essentially just a bigger screen to access the phone," Mr. Battista says.
Future PlayBooks are expected to offer e-mail access independently, but IT managers will still have the choice of requiring users to use their BlackBerrys, says Krista Napier, senior analyst for Canadian emerging technology and digital media at International Data Corp. (Canada) Ltd. in Toronto. The PlayBook will give IT people more control, Ms Napier says. "Things like that will definitely add to the security aspect."
Flash: One weakness built into the iPhone and iPad is their lack of Flash support, the popular Adobe Systems Inc. application that runs multimedia content on websites. The PlayBook supports Flash, meaning websites display as expected.
Flash support could sway small-business users – or anyone else – to give the PlayBook a second look. "It depends on what you want to do with it," Ms. Napier says.
For a business user who browses the Web often, a lack of Flash support can be a significant annoyance. For example, Mr. Taylor says online real-estate listings often use Flash. So support would be important for agents who want to use their tablets to show listings to clients in the field.
Size: With its seven-inch screen and 425-gram weight, the PlayBook is "a lot" smaller than the iPad, Mr. Battista says. For those who are on the go and don't want to lug too much gear, that could be a selling point.
Enthusiasts of the iPad will, of course, argue that the bigger screen is an advantage, which it is for those who might want to use their mobile devices for presentations or any other purpose requiring a bigger display. But for most people, Ms. Napier says, "the seven-inch screen is still going to give you lots of real estate to do what you want to do."
True multi-tasking: Taking advantage of its dual-core processor, the PlayBook makes it easy to run two or more apps at once and switch back and forth between them quickly and easily. "It's able to fully multi-task," Mr. Battista says.
Why does this matter? Mr. Taylor gives the example of a business traveller between flights with limited time to respond to the boss's request to update a PowerPoint presentation. If you need to check information in one app – say a business intelligence system – to update something in another, the ability to flip back and forth saves time.
One-stop shopping: As we said, RIM is first and foremost a business technology company, and as popular as iPhones are, a BlackBerry still says "business" like a suit and tie. So lots of businesses, particularly those that supply their employees with mobile devices, use them.
For those businesses, Mr. Battista says, dealing with one company for phones and tablets may make sense. "It would be a good synergy there."
However, he adds, there are many businesses where employees use their own mobile devices, and they won't all be BlackBerrys. In those cases, one-stop shopping won't be much of an argument.
So, what are the reasons a business might avoid the PlayBook?
Apps: This issue plagues every new device. The PlayBook doesn't come close to matching the range of applications available for the iPad. BlackBerry apps can run on the PlayBook, and some have been adapted to exploit PlayBook features like the larger screen and more powerful processor. A software development kit allowing app developers to take full advantage of the PlayBook's features is on the way.
RIM has cleverly announced plans to make its device support apps written for Google's Android operating system, which has a respectable app ecosystem of its own. But that won't come until the next PlayBook release, some time this summer. For the time being, the iPad offers a much wider choice.
BlackBerry dependency: The PlayBook can access e-mail only when tethered, via a Bluetooth wireless connection, to a BlackBerry. RIM's BlackBerry Bridge software gives the PlayBook access to e-mail, contacts, calendar, memo pad and tasks on the phone.
This shortcoming – for it is certainly a shortcoming, notwithstanding the possible security benefit mentioned earlier – is due to be remedied with the next release of the PlayBook, probably this summer. In the meantime, it will prove a roadblock for the PlayBook. If you don't have a BlackBerry already, you're out of luck with e-mail, the absolutely essential mobile app.