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Amazon Tablet Magnifies RIM’s Problems

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

BlackBerry PlayBook no iPad or, even, Kindle Fire.

James Alan Miller

James Alan Miller is Managing Editor of Tom's IT Pro. He is a veteran technology journalist with over seventeen years of experience creating and developing magazine and online content. Founding editor of numerous business and enterprise computing sites at the network, James headed up the After Hours section at PC Magazine, as well as hardware and software sections of various Windows publications.

Unlike most other tablet and smartphone vendors, RIM has no other businesses to fall back on.  It is a company built from the ground up to live and breathe mobile devices and services.

Reportedly, Amazon’s new Kindle Fire tablet ($199) is based on the same hardware design as RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook. That's fitting, as RIM has the most to lose in a tablet war that just got a whole lot more competitive thanks to Amazon’s aggressive pricing model and tight services integration.

The PlayBook's been a bit of a bust for RIM. Although widely available, RIM only shipped 750,000 PlayBooks so far, with a reported 800,000 or so units still sitting on the shelves.  Being the first product to run on RIM's new QNX operating system, the company had high hopes for the PlayBook (available in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB configurations), however with yesterday’s Kindle Fire announcement, retailers started  slashing the PlayBook’s price. You can now pick up the entry level model for as little as $299.99

Although impressive from a hardware perspective, RIM released the PlayBook half-baked on the software side of the equation.  It lacks many basic built-in native applications, such as personal information management and a native email client (ridiculous for a company that made its name with mob-e-mail). You must connect the tablet to a BlackBerry smartphone to get those features, unacceptable to most business users.

Thankfully, the PlayBook will receive a significant software update (PlayBook OS 2.0) later this fall. With that, the PlayBook will also gain the ability to run some, but by no means all, Android apps through an emulator. While this will greatly increase the tablet’s app pool, many Android apps—such as those that support in-app billing, SIP VoIP and Google Maps, for example—won’t be supported.  

Disturbing for RIM is a recent UBS survey showing the retention rate among BlackBerry smartphone users dropped from 62% to only 33% in only 18 months. By comparison, Apple’s retention rate for the iPhone came in at a robust 89%. Meanwhile, at the end of last month, comScore reported that RIM's share of the U.S. smartphone market dropped from 25.7% to 21.7% in only three months.

Although RIM's hemorrhaging smartphone share and its tablet has been all but a complete bust, thousands of companies still have a significant investment in its BlackBerry devices and wireless messaging and mobile device management platform. So there's still a chance to turn things around.

RIM is by far the strongest mobile device player when it comes to native mobile device management thanks to its BlackBerry Enterprise Server. No other vendor, even Apple or Google, comes close.  For that reason, RIM still has a somewhat loyal—albeit frustrated—following among IT pros. These information technology professional  are the main reason why the RIM is still standing—even with a recent series of lackluster smartphones, the release of a basically unfinished tablet and the roll out of a stopgap BlackBerry OS (version 7), which is supposed to pave the way for the promising and modern QNX platform,

RIM’s future depends on how well it executes next year. Release exciting mobile devices with an operating systems that delivers all the bells and whistles of the iOS and Android, while staying firmly entrenched in the BlackBerry platform’s mobile device management roots, and RIM just may just survive, if not thrive.  If not, RIM will further lose the trust of enterprises and IT pros. That will only lead to disaster.

Meanwhile, the question of software updates and enhancements to the PlayBook may turn out to be moot after all: Today, an analyst asserted that RIM have havehalted production of the PlayBook and is considering exiting the tablet market altogether.