RIM PlayBook: One Device, Two Faces
That Androidness could be good or bad for the PlayBook: good because there's clearly a lot of interest in such personal tablets, and RIM's BlackBerry brand could help the device stand out from the sea of me-too Android devices; but bad because there will be a slew of Android devices coming from companies with strong brands such as Motorola Mobility and Samsung. Also on the minus side, consumers have come to view the Android brand as the mobile equivalent of Windows, and just as users seek Windows PCs rather than PCs that happen to run Windows, most will seek Android tablets rather than tablets that run whatever tablet OS. Of course, Apple is the exception here: Its unique OS is a major source of strength for it in both the mobile and PC markets. But banking on being another Apple is a long-shot bet, especially for a conservative firm like RIM.
Do the two personalities complement each other?
Ultimately, for RIM's PlayBook's multiple-personality strategy to work, the two personalities have to complement each other. In the context of the BlackBerry/BES environment, the PlayBook has to make sense as a productivity tool, which will mean having appropriate apps and Web services available to be more than just a big screen for your BlackBerry. When the tablet is in the "just another tablet" context, it too has to make sense, providing a reasonable user experience in its own right for games, video, music, email, Web, and basic productivity needs.
If users see the PlayBook with its BlackBerry business face on and understand it also has a "just another tablet" consumer face, they may decide they like the idea of a device that can adjust itself to its context, even if it requires having a BlackBerry to do so. Otherwise, I fear they'll simply be confused why it works one way on the factory floor or job site and another way at home. Such confusion will lead them to make a safe choice (Android or iPad) for their personal use and relegate the PlayBook to the few clear corporate-required (and thus corporate-issued) uses.
My conversations with RIM execs leads me to believe that the real impetus behind the PlayBook strategy was to bolster the BlackBerry in business while having a product that would fly in the consumer market. But those same conversations gave me little sense that RIM has thought through what it takes to accomplish this goal in either market. It is an odd balancig act, after all: to be tightly controlled in one context and uncontrolled in another. I also noted a strain of head-in-the-sand, "when will they get over this dalliance with others?" sentiment clouding some of their judgments.
With the PlayBook slated to launch within the next 10 weeks, we'll soon see if the PlayBook's two personalities work well together in a balanced yin-and-yang relationship -- or if RIM has created a Jekyll-and-Hyde creature.
This article, "The two faces of the RIM PlayBook," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.