Research in Motion's (RIM) recently announced BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 is a very interesting device and mobile ecosystem. Although the long awaited new version of the PlayBook OS delivers a fairly significant set of enterprise features, much of the enterprise perspective has been lost because of the intense media focus on how well (or not well, as the case may be) RIM has been able to get the PlayBook into the hands of consumers, rather than into the hands of enterprises.
This has turned into a boondoggle for RIM, but it isn't one that RIM can't escape from. The key for RIM is to deliver a very strong focus back to its enterprise roots, but it needs to go very large to do so. It can't simply be an incremental effort that tries to straddle both sides of the consumer-enterprise fence.
RIM itself has been at fault here on the media front, as it hasn't put forth the real effort needed to change perceptions in the media. The truth of the matter is that the PlayBook is really a relatively powerful enterprise device, but that is hardly the key message anyone will give you when it comes to the PlayBook - and this needs to change.
Let's take a moment here to review the key features of the PlayBook, as well as what are the key components of PlayBook OS 2:
- Integrated email client with a unified inbox: With BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 you have the option to use a unified inbox that consolidates all messages in one place, including messages from Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as personal and work email accounts
- Social Integration with Calendar and Contacts apps: The built-in calendar harnesses information from social networks and makes it available where and when users need it. Contact cards are also dynamically populated with updated information from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to create a consolidated view of contacts
- Updated BlackBerry Bridge app: BlackBerry Bridge is a unique app that provides a Bluetooth connection between your BlackBerry PlayBook and core apps on your BlackBerry smartphone (including BBM, Email, Contacts, Calendar and Browser) in order to let you view the content on the larger tablet display. With BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0, it should now prove easier to take documents, web pages, emails and photos that appear on a BlackBerry smartphone and display them on a BlackBerry PlayBook for an optimized viewing and editing experience. The updated BlackBerry Bridge app also provides a new remote control feature that allows a BlackBerry smartphone to be used as a wireless keyboard and mouse for a BlackBerry PlayBook
- Improved mobile productivity: Updated document editing functions, the new Print To Go app, and increased control and manageability of corporate data with BlackBerry Balance allow you to get more out of your BlackBerry PlayBook every day. Plus, an updated virtual keyboard with auto correction and predictive next word completion learns how you type to enable faster, more accurate typing
- New apps and content: Thousands of new apps are being added to BlackBerry App World today (including a range of Android apps that will run on the BlackBerry PlayBook). Enhanced web browsing capabilities are also available with BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0
There is absolutely nothing in the above list of capabilities that one would point to as being primarily focused on the consumer. For the most part these are enterprise-focused features that in a world that isn't currently possessed by iPads, iPhones and Android devices, would be among the key desired features of any IT department looking to deliver a well-managed mobile environment.
In conjunction with the release of BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0, RIM is also making available an initial release of BlackBerry Mobile Fusion that will include support for managing BlackBerry PlayBook tablets and BlackBerry smartphones in an enterprise. The full release of BlackBerry Mobile Fusion (with mobile device management capabilities for iOS and Android devices) is planned for general availability in late March 2012.
We've spent some quality time looking into the PlayBook ecosystem, especially as it relates to RIM's Mobile Fusion. We confess that what we’ve seen so far should play exceedingly well in the enterprise. We will be taking a fairly detailed look at Mobile Fusion in an upcoming report on the MDM marketplace, but from what we’ve seen, there is enough technology in Mobile Fusion to more than satisfy the needs of a primarily BlackBerry shop, or one in which BlackBerry infrastructure is in place (perhaps extensively). And regardless of media perception, there are still huge pockets of such BlackBerry enterprise environments.
Unfortunately, Apple and the Android players - especially Samsung and HTC (and we can begin to add Huawei to the list) - have made the devices themselves a critical piece of the puzzle. So regardless of enterprise features, RIM still has to figure out how it can recapture a strong sense of excitement for its own devices. We have not seen the evidence yet that RIM can pull this side of it off. There is still far too much emphasis on keyboard-based Bold devices, and not nearly enough on new hardware that can capture the imagination of users.
As noted in other articles on RIM, the upcoming BlackBerry World is the real stage where RIM must deliver an enormously positive user experience - not only in the operating system and in new apps, but most importantly in new devices that excite and truly capture the user's imagination. A few short months from now we'll know.
Let's spend a little bit of time hypothesizing that RIM is actually able to deliver something exciting from a hardware perspective - something that will drive users to say "I want one of those." That is the missing link. Can RIM deliver? Perhaps a 10 inch PlayBook? Perhaps a truly slim all-touch Torch that sets a new level other hardware vendors need to shoot for. If RIM can do that, it will add a great deal of momentum to its Mobile Fusion and related enterprise capabilities. We're rooting for the company to pull this off.
The last piece we'll focus on when it comes to RIM is to note that Android applications are in fact going up on the BlackBerry App Store, and that PlayBook users will in fact be able to run them - supposedly with no performance hits what so ever. What may not be clear is that those Android applications can only be downloaded from the BlackBerry App World site. A PlayBook user can't simply go to Google's Android store (what was once called the Android Market and is as of a few days ago now called Google Play) and download any Android app he or she may want. The app has to be made available by its developer within BlackBerry's own store.
We understand why BlackBerry has taken this approach. For one, it gives developers a clean way to create a new revenue stream. It also allows RIM to maintain a position whereby they can claim that only the best of Android applications will be served up. That is of course a simple justification for having a small subset of Android apps available, but there is also a large grain of truth associated with it. Will this be enough to persuade users to at least explore using the PlayBook? Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, RIM definitely has its enterprise chops back in place. That is a cornerstone for survival. Android app availability is also invaluable. But - and it is a big but - RIM has to deliver the cool devices that set the bar for others to follow. It certainly creates some new-found anticipation for BlackBerry World. We hope RIM delivers - its enterprise heritage is entirely at stake, and it is a heritage we want to see RIM begin to once again grow.