RIM 'BlackPad' could be the tablet businesses need

RIM doesn't have the consumer clout of Apple, but it has credibility in business -- giving its tablet a possible advantage

Reports are circulating that RIM will officially unveil its tablet device at the 2010 BlackBerry Developer Conference in San Francisco next week. The RIM tablet would be entering a market currently dominated by the iPad and about to get much more crowded, but RIM has an advantage that neither Apple, nor most other tablet competitors have: business credibility.

Just as it did with the iPhone, Apple already proved the world wrong on the general concept of the tablet, as well as on the value of a tablet as a mobile computing device for business. Given the right platform, the tablet has a number of significant advantages over netbooks and notebooks, and is uniquely suited for a variety of tasks where larger PCs simply don't make sense.

The Apple iPad sold three million units in only 80 days, and until just recently Apple could not keep up with the demand. At the recent launch in China, crowds lined up for blocks to get the Apple tablet. Analysts predict that Apple could sell 28 million iPads in 2011 alone.

There is no denying that the iPad is a blockbuster hit, and it has even gained more traction among business users than some analysts and naysayers predicted. Despite Apple's focus on the consumer market, and some severe handicaps that hinder the effectiveness of the iPad as a business tool, many businesses and users have still adopted the tablet as a mobile computing platform.

RIM approaches the tablet market from the polar opposite perspective. Its BlackBerry smartphones are the de facto mobile communications platform for many businesses, but RIM has failed to capture much consumer interest in recent years. What it does have, though, is brand respect among business users and IT departments. Companies that are already invested in a RIM infrastructure are likely to give the BlackPad some serious consideration.

Based on the rumored specs of the RIM tablet, it will fit nicely among the competition. According to reports, the BlackPad will have a 7-inch display, and one or two cameras to enable video conferencing. It is expected to have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, but no 3G capabilities, but will enable 3G data connections by tethering to a BlackBerry smartphone.

One wildcard for the tablet is the OS. While the BlackBerry 6 OS makes some sense, the RIM tablet is expected to run a new mobile OS designed by QNX. That could be brilliant, or a huge mistake. Since tablets don't run standard desktop applications, much of the value and functionality of the tablet is tied to the apps that are available for it. With a QNX mobile OS, the app environment and how the RIM tablet will integrate with the existing BlackBerry infrastructure are question marks.

A device that provides the features and benefits found in tablets like the iPad or the Galaxy Tab, but with the tools and infrastructure IT admins need to effectively deploy, maintain, and protect the devices remotely as they roam around the building or the world could be exactly the tablet that businesses are looking for.

And, by launching now RIM can get a head start before the Cisco Cius hits the street.

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Tony Bradley

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