Tablets could offer Research-in-Motion a second act
Could tablets offer Research-in-Motion a second act? The company, whose Blackberry phones were the hottest mobile devices of the decade until the iPhone and Android phones showed up, badly needs something to revive its growth.
Just last week, ComScore said that the Blackberry’s share of the U.S. smartphone market fell to 35.8% from 39.3% while the iPhone inched up a percentage point to 24.6% and Android grew by six and a half percentage points to 23.5%. Another survey by Nielsen showed that people planning to upgrade from feature phones to smartphones prefer Android and iPhones. Only 11% of those surveyed are most interested in buying a Blackberry.
Analysts are starting to worry that the trend will be repeated in overseas markets. On Wednesday, Shaw Wu of Kaufman Bros. said he expects RIM’s stock price to erode because Android’s market share is growing as prices of Android phones come down. RIM’s stock is down 3% since Monday as investors mulled such concerns.
On Thursday, the blog Boy Genius Report showed a nine-minute video demoing the Blackberry Playbook, a new tablet from RIM. It’s still a work in progress, and the demo didn’t show how the device connects to the Internet, but it offered enough of a glimpse to suggest that the Playbook could be a strong contender in the growing market for tablets.
The Blackberry Playbook is powered by an operating system that uses technology from QNX, an Ottowa-based software company that RIM bought in April. The navigation is smooth, intuitive and in some ways superior to the iPad – allowing the user to scroll down to see all apps, or to flip sideways to see apps organized by category.
The Playbook’s multitask function makes it easier to jump between apps than the iPad does. Videos can continue to play in the background as they would on a laptop browser when another app, say email, is opened. Swiping along different borders of the tablet’s screen adds new navigation features, making it easier to call up a keyboard or minimize screens.
The iPad is likely to be the leading tablet for some time. But the tablet market is growing at the expense of laptops and netbooks, so there is room for other tablets to grow as well. Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab will have a share. And if the Blackberry Playbook delivers on this early promise, it could offer RIM a seat at the table too. And not a minute too soon.