RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook, unveiled last week, is the latest entry in what has become a rapidly growing field of iPad competitors. But unlike most upcoming Android tablets -- the big exception being Cisco's Cius -- the PlayBook isn't meant to compete with the iPad in the consumer market. Despite its touted capabilities for multimedia, the PlayBook is primarily designed to be a business and enterprise tablet.
It's easy to assume that the 7-in. PlayBook stands to take market share from Apple in the business world, where the iPad has already gained some ground since its arrival in April. After all, the BlackBerry has long been the de facto smartphone in business and government, aided by the fact that it is managed by RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), conventionally considered the best software for secure smartphone management.
IT control and monitoring of BlackBerries via BES has always been the crown jewel of RIM's business model and a major selling point to enterprises because it ensures device and data security that's a step above any other platform's. Compared to the iPad's limited management capabilities and enterprise features, that would seem to make the PlayBook a home run for many businesses.
But will that be true? Most arguments that have been made against the iPad's enterprise features and management are valid -- right now. The iPad currently ships with Version 3.x of Apple's iOS, whose management capabilities are limited, not to mention time- and labor-intensive to implement.
However, the PlayBook, like the Cius, won't ship until next year. By then, Apple will have updated the iPad's operating system to Version 4.2, adding to it the same rich remote deployment capabilities, device-monitoring features, and user-account-driven provisioning and management capabilities now available with the iPhone 4 -- including a wide swath of user restrictions, remote access capabilities and security features.
Apple's iOS 4.2 is due out next month.
So let's compare the iPad -- a device that is already shipping and is about to see a substantial operating system update -- with the PlayBook, which isn't even on the market and about which some mysteries remain when it comes to price, storage capacity and battery life.
Enterprise management and data
On the surface, integration with BES will be a key selling point of the PlayBook, particularly for organizations with an existing BES infrastructure. However, RIM seems to indicate that those management features and data access will require pairing with a BlackBerry, and that BES data -- like e-mail or contacts -- will not permanently reside on the device; they'll be temporarily cached on the PlayBook through the BlackBerry to which it is synced. (It also isn't clear exactly what PlayBook management features will be supported).
What happens if an employee loses or forgets his smartphone -- the one the PlayBook is synced to? Does that preclude access to the tablet? And will the syncing requirements mean higher deployment costs if every PlayBook has to be matched to a BlackBerry?