Feature: RIM readies PlayBook for fighting Apple and Google

 
Page 1 of 2 | Single page

Inside the company's life-or-death battle for relevance.

Once upon a time, BlackBerry was king. Then came the iPhone, followed by Android. And BlackBerry seemingly lost its way -- if not quite its throne.

Research In Motion is holding on to profit growth and impressive margins. For all the consumer appeal of Apple products, BlackBerry is still dominant in corporate mobile communications and RIM sells millions of its workaholic devices each quarter to a growing global audience.

But the attention of investors, analysts and developers is drifting elsewhere and the Canadian company, in the midst of a major platform and product transition, is seen possessing but a small window of opportunity to reinvigorate itself and match the momentum of rival mobile monarchs Apple and Google.

The PlayBook tablet computer, due to launch within weeks after a six-month pitch, is RIM's first product to use an industrial-strength operating system based on QNX, a powerhouse microkernel (rather than the typical monolithic kernel) which RIM bought last year and aims to incorporate into its future smartphones.

QNX -- which also runs nuclear power plants, medical instrumentation and Cisco's core Internet routers -- is the brains behind many of the infotainment systems shipping in new cars, and RIM plans seamless interaction between those dashboards, its PlayBook and its range of BlackBerry smartphones.

The PlayBook is a multitasking behemoth in a petite package, able to stream a high-definition video to a television screen via a HDMI cable while a user simultaneously edits a presentation or plays an immersive game on the 7-inch device.

It is also a minor revolution for a myopic company that has long been intolerant of risk, insiders say.

"The Playbook shows that RIM has lost some of its collective fear, but only because it's a proven moneymaker for other companies who have already blazed a path for RIM to take," said one former RIM software engineer.

Those who know him best say Mike Lazaridis, the engineer founder of Research In Motion, never believed a tablet computer was the right fit for the BlackBerry maker.

"Mike is a purist. He sticks to his main theme," said Robert Fraser, an early wireless pioneer and RIM partner whose concept of a personal communicator was eventually embodied by the BlackBerry. "One of the reasons RIM has been so successful is because they haven't deviated."

That theme was wireless email, sent via a server network that compresses and encrypts messages and guarantees delivery, vital for business in a world of limited radio resources.

Part of RIM's solution, the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, sits behind a corporate firewall and ties closely to proprietary back-end systems. The whole operation is managed by massive data centers run by RIM, which also enable the free BlackBerry Messenger service so beloved by teenagers.

RIM's BlackBerry service, launched in 1999, was an immediate hit with white-collar workers and politicians, and today there are more than 250,000 of its enterprise servers installed worldwide.

That overwhelming success, however, coupled with a lawsuit that almost shut the whole operation down, bred intense caution that could ultimately threaten the company's future as it shies away from betting on risky innovations.

Something changed

As far back as 2005, when it became feasible to display a browser on a wireless device, Fraser was pushing his friend Lazaridis to branch out to a larger screen, to no avail.

Yet a year after Apple's iPad captured imaginations and made the long-possible tablet computer a market reality, RIM is about to follow suit, with its smaller, more business-friendly version, the PlayBook.

"Something changed his mind in the last two years," Fraser said. If it was the iPad's runaway success that forced RIM's hand, Lazaridis ain't admitting it.

In several interviews with Reuters in recent months, executives including Lazaridis and his salesman co-chief Jim Balsillie have painted the PlayBook as a gilded object blessed with perfect timing and pedigree.

"For me, it's all about mobile computing and always was. And it's about always choosing the right moment, the right time, the right technology," Lazaridis said.

That's why RIM took the painful decision to delay the project to ensure it packed Texas Instruments' dual-core processor at launch, which is expected within weeks.

"We decided the tablet market was still in its infancy, it hasn't really taken off yet," Lazaridis said, dismissing the headstart of Apple, which pocketed US$9.5 billion from sales of almost 15 million iPads in 2010, three times most initial forecasts, and this month unveiled an updated version.

It may be in its infancy, still dwarfed by both smartphone and laptop sales, but it is growing fast and a verdict on the viability of PlayBook and its QNX centerpiece is expected by year-end.

"Let's not make any bones about it, they're trying to fulfill this transition during an incredibly hectic time and one where they're seeing a huge amount of competition externally," said Geoff Blaber, an analyst at CCS Insight.

"It gives them the framework, it gives them the opportunity to compete," he said in reference to QNX. "What is uncertain now ... is how they're going to deliver that beyond the tablet."

Then he adds a hedge: "History has taught us to be very careful of writing RIM off. By the end of this year I'd expect to see a pretty big change in terms of what they're offering."

Read on to page two for RIM's life-or-death battle for relevance.


Feature: RIM readies PlayBook for fighting Apple and Google
 
 
 
Top Stories
Frugality as a service: the Amazon story
Behind the scenes, Amazon Web Services is one lean machine.
 
Negotiating with the cloud email megavendors
[Blog post] Lessons from Woolworths’ mammoth migration.
 
Qld govt to move up to 149k staff onto Office 365
Australia's largest deployment, outside of the universities.
 
 
Sign up to receive iTnews email bulletins
   FOLLOW US...

Latest VideosSee all videos »

The great data centre opportunity on Australia's doorstep
The great data centre opportunity on Australia's doorstep
Scott Noteboom, CEO of LitBit speaking at The Australian Data Centre Strategy Summit 2014 in the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. http://bit.ly/1qpxVfV Scott Noteboom is a data centre engineer who led builds for Apple and Yahoo in the earliest days of the cloud, and who now eyes Asia as the next big opportunity. Read more: http://www.itnews.com.au/News/372482,how-do-we-serve-three-billion-new-internet-users.aspx#ixzz2yNLmMG5C
Interview: Karl Maftoum, CIO, ACMA
Interview: Karl Maftoum, CIO, ACMA
To COTS or not to COTS? iTnews asks Karl Maftoum, CIO of the ACMA, at the CIO Strategy Summit.
Susan Sly: What is the Role of the CIO?
Susan Sly: What is the Role of the CIO?
AEMO chief information officer Susan Sly calls for more collaboration among Australia's technology leaders at the CIO Strategy Summit.
Meet the 2014 Finance CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Finance CIO of the Year
Credit Union Australia's David Gee awarded Finance CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards.
Meet the 2014 Retail CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Retail CIO of the Year
Damon Rees named Retail CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at Woolworths.
Robyn Elliott named the 2014 Utilities CIO of the Year
Robyn Elliott named the 2014 Utilities CIO of the Year
Acting Foxtel CIO David Marks accepts an iTnews Benchmark Award on behalf of Robyn Elliott.
Meet the 2014 Industrial CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Industrial CIO of the Year
Sanjay Mehta named Industrial CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at ConocoPhillips.
Meet the 2014 Healthcare CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Healthcare CIO of the Year
Greg Wells named Healthcare CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at NSW Health.
Meet the 2014 Education CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Education CIO of the Year
William Confalonieri named Healthcare CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at Deakin University.
Meet the 2014 Government CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Government CIO of the Year
David Johnson named Government CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at the Queensland Police Service.
Q and A: Coalition Broadband Policy
Q and A: Coalition Broadband Policy
Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott discuss the Coalition's broadband policy with the press.
AFP scalps hacker 'leader' inside Australia's IT ranks.
AFP scalps hacker 'leader' inside Australia's IT ranks.
The Australian Federal Police have arrested a Sydney-based IT security professional for hacking a government website.
NBN Petition Delivered To Turnbull's Office
NBN Petition Delivered To Turnbull's Office
UTS CIO: IT teams of the future
UTS CIO: IT teams of the future
UTS CIO Chrissy Burns talks data.
New UTS Building: the IT within
New UTS Building: the IT within
The IT behind tomorrow's universities.
iTnews' NBN Panel
iTnews' NBN Panel
Is your enterprise NBN-ready?
Introducing iTnews Labs
Introducing iTnews Labs
See a timelapse of the iTnews labs being unboxed, set up and switched on! iTnews will produce independent testing of the latest enterprise software to hit the market after installing a purpose-built test lab in Sydney. Watch the installation of two DL380p servers, two HP StoreVirtual 4330 storage arrays and two HP ProCurve 2920 switches.
The True Cost of BYOD
The True Cost of BYOD
iTnews' Brett Winterford gives attendees of the first 'Touch Tomorrow' event in Brisbane a brief look at his research into enterprise mobility. What are the use cases and how can they be quantified? What price should you expect to pay for securing mobile access to corporate applications? What's coming around the corner?
Ghost clouds
Ghost clouds
ACMA chair Chris Chapman says there is uncertainty over whether certain classes of cloud service providers are caught by regulations.
Was the Snowden leak inevitable?
Was the Snowden leak inevitable?
Privacy experts David Vaile (UNSW Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre) and Craig Scroggie (CEO, NextDC) claim they were not surprised by the Snowden leaks about the NSA's PRISM program.
Latest Comments
Polls
Which bank is most likely to suffer an RBS-style meltdown?





   |   View results
ANZ
  21%
 
Bankwest
  9%
 
CommBank
  11%
 
National Australia Bank
  17%
 
Suncorp
  24%
 
Westpac
  19%
TOTAL VOTES: 1445

Vote