Slice of the pie
One tablet maker is teaming with tech giants to win your attention, writes Jennifer Dudley- Nicholson
EVEN in business, the enemy of your enemy may be your friend.
This theory brought together some of the world’s biggest technology names last week as they teamed to produce a competitive tablet and world-first apps to challenge market leader Apple.
The unexpected friendship circle included Research in Motion ( RIM), the brains behind BlackBerry, software giant Microsoft, social networking leader Facebook, creative centre Adobe and search giant Google.
The team is pooling its special skills to whittle down the lead established by Apple’s iPad, now in the hands of more than 15 million people.
The gadget the team is backing to achieve this is half the iPad’s size – the 7-inch ( 17.78cm) BlackBerry PlayBook.
Due in Australia within weeks, the slick tablet offers something genuinely different in size, form, menus and the way it operates, from connecting to the internet to delivering web videos.
But RIM already faces challenges to its success and has been forced to change some of its original design. It is also planning to add innovative apps and use Google to boost its initially modest app library.
RIM gathered the motley crew of technology giants in Orlando, Florida, recently for its BlackBerry World Conference. The 10th annual gathering drew its biggest audience at more than 6000 attendees, leading co-chief executive Mike Lazaridis to announce: ‘‘ I’ve never been more excited and more confident about our future and where we are going.’’
But the conference came at a challenging time for RIM after it recently announced a profit warning and dropped to fourth place in the worldwide smartphone wars.
To counter this, Lazaridis revealed a new flagship smartphone in the BlackBerry Bold 9900. But his focus was trained on the company’s new tablet, the PlayBook, out in the US for less than a month.
Features include a videocalling app that can also be used to make voice calls and the first official Facebook app for a tablet, made possible using Adobe’s Air.
Lazaridis was also keen to stress RIM’s ongoing partnership with Adobe that delivers Flash videos to the tablet’s screen from sites including Facebook, something Apple’s tablet does not support.
In addition to Adobe’s backing, Microsoft has joined the PlayBook fan group, with chief executive Steve Ballmer making a surprise appearance in Orlando to announce Bing as the tablet’s default search engine.
Bing would not only be included in the tablet, Ballmer said, but the relationship would ‘‘ go way beyond a search box’’.
‘‘ It’s about finding real tools that help people to get things done,’’ he said.
Plans for the unexpected partnership included location services and augmented reality apps that let users wave tablets in front of them to find out more information about stores, landmarks or people.
RIM will also engage Google to popularise the PlayBook, though without the search giant’s permission.
The company confirmed it would support apps from Google’s Android Market, letting app developers add their creations to two tablet camps at once.
RIM chief technology officer David Yach said the new feature would be launched soon and would boost the PlayBook’s initial offering of 3000 apps.
‘‘ There’ll be the equivalent of one button push that will [ let developers] submit apps to BlackBerry, like any other app submitted to App World,’’ he said. Google’s app depository offers more than 101,000 apps.
Ovum principal analyst Tony Cripps said the move was ‘‘ understandable but potentially risky’’, because it may confuse app developers.
RIM will also add two important apps to the PlayBook that were deliberately left out at its release. Email and calendar apps were excluded from the PlayBook for corporate security reasons, but their omission attracted great criticism from users.
RIM business and platform marketing senior vice-president Jeff McDowell said the company would backtrack on its decision and release these apps for the PlayBook in the coming months.
Whether Australians will embrace the $ 467 tablet will become clear soon but one thing is certain, it has backers in high places.