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So what’s the big problem for the PlayBook? What’s wrong for the PlayBook is what’s so right for iPad and Android tablets: third-party software support.
When we turned on, registered the PlayBook and hooked into WiFi, it was like opening an ornately wrapped gift box -- only to open that gift box and find inside a few marbles and an IOU. Where the heck are the apps?
Alan Panezic, vice president of software for RIM, told reporters during a Monday briefing at BlackBerry World in Orlando that, on launch, there were more than 3,000 apps available for the PlayBook platform on launch -- more than any other competing device on launch. That’s not good enough; RIM has had deep and long-standing relationships with so many ISVs that it would have been reasonable to expect many more apps on launch. (By comparison, there are now more apps just for one category -- health and fitness -- on iOS than apps in total for PlayBook.)
An example: When we searched BlackBerry App World -- its online app store for third-party software -- for “video chat,” it returned just a couple of hits, including two for “video poker.”
RIM is attempting to address this and, among other things, will make available as early as tonight BlackBerry PlayBook Video Chat. That’s its own, proprietary video chat application that will allow one person with a PlayBook to hold video chats with someone who has another PlayBook. It should do better. If video chat on a PlayBook can work with video chat on an iPad 2, for example, the device will be much more powerful. One route to achieve that would be to encourage or work with Skype -- which provides video chat that works on iOS devices.
Additionally, RIM said they it will launch a new, tablet-optimized Facebook app for the PlayBook this week. At a list price of $449, you could call the PlayBook the “Facebook Tablet” and, frankly, it would sell a lot of units on that alone. RIM executives said they have worked intensively with Facebook to maximize the social networking service’s video, chat and other features to the tablet form factor. By contrast, this is actually a very positive move.
The key for RIM will be aggressive work with third-party developers, and that will mean providing them aggressive financial incentives if need be. The great thing about mobile devices is that, because of the software and app ecosystems, they tend to become more valuable over time. That builds platform loyalty.
The bottom line: RIM developed an incredibly loyal market during the late ‘90s and 2000s on the BlackBerry platform, but lost its mojo by underestimating the eventual popularity of iPhone and Android devices in the enterprise. The will win back a lot of that mojo by engaging ISVs and VARs -- the trusted local advisor to enterprise IT.
If that happens, the results will speak for themselves in answering all those critics today who are now piling on.
The PlayBook will require a good look and consideration by enterprises moving to tablets as part of the IT blueprint.