Can the PlayBook serve two masters?

RIM's tablet, shipping Tuesday, is more business-focused, with more consumer apps coming in later versions.

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Part of the reason for the PlayBook's low showing is that it will take time for RIM to attract developers to the new BlackBerry Tablet OS, based on QNX technology, Gartner said.

Gartner believes the support for RIM's PlayBook will come mainly from businesses that already have the RIM BES infrastructure or that have stringent security requirements.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group, noted that RIM has said users will be able to run Android apps on the PlayBook, which isn't necessarily a selling point. "If you want Android apps, why not just use Android?" Kerravala said.

Early reviewers have also said that the PlayBook is short on apps, potentially another deterrent, especially for consumers. PC World's review noted the PlayBook's "limited app selection." About 3,000 AppWorld store apps will be available at launch, but that is only a fraction of the 60,000 available for the iPad.

Perhaps the number of applications and other adjustments desired by consumers will come soon enough, Burden said. "The consumer is very important to RIM, even though it's not its traditional base," he said. "In no way could RIM have had good sales of BlackBerry smartphones without consumers, and consumers will be very important to the PlayBook's success as well."

Burden said some consumers will be stunned by the PlayBook's performance with its 1GHz dual-core processor. While no one would want to watch two movies streamed to a tablet at once, the PlayBook can do so "without a hiccup," he said, while other tablets on the market can't.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates, added that RIM understands the importance of serving both masters -- business and consumer.

"PlayBook will eventually play to consumers, but my expectation is that early implementers will be business users who are leveraging the BlackBerry BES infrastructure," Gold said. "This first version of the PlayBook does not have all the bells and whistles that consumers want, with lots of content and apps, but the next version should have more. I think business users will be OK with the tethering to the BlackBerry smartphone, at least for now. And they can use some of the BlackBerry apps they already use, which is good."

Ted Schadler and Sarah Rotman, both analysts at Forrester Research, said RIM's marketing to both consumers and business users must be "flawless" and warned that if it's not, RIM will have "an expensive product failure on its hands."

RIM sees that it needs more PlayBook apps to appeal to consumers, Schadler said, and to be successful, it must show how it will add more apps and other features in its second version.

"RIM has a powerful consumer brand and 20,000 retail outlets, and they know they need to appeal to consumers," he said. "But if they sell PlayBook to the enterprise and don't have the consumer apps also, then business users will just have two tablets -- a PlayBook and an an iPad."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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