RIM’s new strategy PlayBook

by alec on September 29, 2010

RIM’s new PlayBook looks pretty nice, doesn’t it?  At least from what we can see, anyway.  Launched a couple of days ago, its high pixel density display, snappy dual core processor, gobs of OS RAM, and Adobe Flash support (!) make it a very interesting entrant into the tablet market.

In fact, let’s go one step further.  PlayBook appears to be the first real re-imagining of the tablet since Apple launched iPad earlier this year.  Every other attempt, to date, has really been a slavish attempt to best Apple at their own game.

PlayBook speaks directly to RIM’s strength in mobile enterprise security.  When “paired” with a BlackBerry, it gives secure access to the core BlackBerry assets – mail, calendar, and so on – but under control of the BES.  Writing in the Globe and Mail, Omar El Akkad says

When the PlayBook launches, it will come with two preloaded “identities” – a corporate one and a consumer one. For example, if a user stops using the device for a while and their password login session times out, all the active corporate apps will lock down, whereas the consumer ones won’t.

Don’t you love the name PlayBook? A clever pun on the tool that every coach uses to manage a team, the name evokes leadership, professionalism, and… more.  Despite RIM’s positioning of the PlayBook as the world’s first “professional” tablet device, with its dual core processors, high definition video output and more, PlayBook clearly has a lot of “play” in it as well.  The busy executive can watch a movie on a plane, or hand it to the children to keep them occupied with games in the car on a long trip, as well as use it to keep connected with the office.  PlayBook is not just about the enterprise.

In a direct slap at Apple, on Monday RIM claimed that the “full web” will be available on the PlayBook, not a shrunk-down version. That means Flash web sites.  Hallelujah!  With Android and RIM supporting mobile Flash, how much longer can Uncle Steve hold out?

RIM’s support of Flash is, in fact, part of a much larger developer story for PlayBook.  In a full-on embrace of Adobe, PlayBook will support the creation of applications in both Flash and Adobe Air.  In addition, developers can write applications using RIM’s newly announced WebWorks platform, the Posix API, Java, and the BlackBerry 6 API.

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The options available to developers on the RIM tablet OS is the most significant story out of this announcement.  With this platform RIM can now target web developers, Flash / Air developers, Java developers, POSIX developers, and the existing base of BlackBerry developers.  It’s a very large community from which to source applications.

There had been much speculation prior to the announcement that QNX’s support of POSIX API’s might mean that RIM would be able to court Android developers, given that Android is based on LINUX, another POSIX OS.  While theoretically possible, it’s unlikely that many developers will choose to code directly to Android’s POSIX layer, preferring instead the Android application framework.    Given that Android also supports development on Flash and Adobe Air, it’s much more likely that those platforms will be used to create cross platform applications.

And what about the future?  RIM execs have already confirmed that future BlackBerry OS releases will be based on QNX. That’s great news for developers. A clear migration story and roadmap are critical to RIM maintaining it’s community.

RIM’s strategy feels a lot like something Microsoft might do – build from a place of strength in the enterprise.  Embrace the developer community with early access to the platform, a broad and rich set of tools for creating software that are suitable to a range of skills and needs, and deep developer programs to support that community.  It’s a stark contrast to Apple’s approach, and one that has been very successful for Microsoft in the past.

Frankly, it’s a good strategy.  I’m bullish on RIM’s new direction.

I’ll leave you with one last thought.  One of QNX’ technology hallmarks is its distributed message passing architecture.  Applications can run parts of themselves transparently on different processors and devices on a network.  To understand what this means, think about the technology future shown in the movie Avatar where applications were transparently dragged from one screen to another, the screen then detached by the user, and the user walked away with the same application running on the portable device. Was it just artistic license, or was the PlayBook launch video trying to communicate a similar vision for BlackBerry, Playbook and QNX? Perhaps the message of the video is that a world is coming in which your mobile device will transparently interact with all kinds of other computers in your environment – like cars, projectors, desktop PC’s, entertainment consoles, music devices and televisions. QNX is already in those kinds of applications today…

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