So, we don't know if you heard, but RIM had some news to announce this week, something about a tablet.
Leading up to RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis' Playbook announcement on Monday afternoon, we'd heard all kinds of conflicting news about whether RIM would unveil a tablet or not. Some insiders had seen prototypes, so we knew the thing existed, but it seemed far fewer had any idea when the news would be made public. As we landed in San Francisco Sunday night, a RIM source said he was pessimistic about a tablet announcement, and said we should expect another smart phone or ad network news instead.
On Monday morning, the press was invited to a RIM briefing, about four hours before Mr. Lazaridis' keynote speech. We were basically given a heads up about every other announcement RIM would make that day - the new ad service, the BlackBerry Messenger stuff, all of it. But the info was under embargo until the keynote began. Usually, tech companies are among the most paranoid about embargoes, and RIM is no exception - a staffer stood at the door, asking everyone walking in if they'd agreed to the embargo, even though RIM's PR agency, days ahead of the event, would not tell us anything about it until we signed an embargo. Still, at least the reporters had time to write their stories before the announcement was made public.
During that briefing, the RIM execs were asked about any tablet news, but refused to say anything.
So when media were led into the massive Moscone convention hall about an hour before the keynote began, we didn't have much forewarning.
Mr. Lazaridis was first on the stage. As with just about every RIM speech we've seen, he started with numbers and stats about how many BlackBerrys the companies had sold, their market position around the world, and so on. It was, to be honest, pretty boring.
Then, he looked down at the teleprompter just below the stage and half-smiled. From the view in the front row where the press sat, it appeared for a moment that the teleprompter had gone dead because Mr. Lazaridis began talking in very general terms about RIM and its history. Then he said he wanted to show us a video. Suddenly, images of a brand-new user interface began flashing on the screen, floating across various surfaces in a size that made it very clear this was not another BlackBerry phone. The crowd went nuts.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Playbook launch was how quick it was, taking up maybe, at best, 10 per cent of the presentation. After that, RIM execs went through all the stuff the media had been briefed about earlier. It would be like Apple announcing the iPad, and then spending the majority of the launch talking about iPhone development tools.
In fairness, this is RIM's developer conference, and a lot of these seemingly minor announcements were in fact of huge importance to the app creators in the audience, who are in turn of huge importance to RIM.
Following the keynote, the attendees were invited to look at a few Playbooks, which were kept out of reach by protective glass. Still, the relatively short duration of the announcement gave the impression the Playbook was a very recent addition to the conference agenda.
Today, developers will be lining up for a training session on how to program software for the tablet. We'll try to get in, and we'll let you know if we see one of these things in the wild.