Can PlayBook tablet serve both consumers and workers?

Analysts say IT must let workers use RIM tablet's multimedia features and RIM must convince consumers to buy from business-centric company

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A recent survey by Crowd Science supported the notion that BlackBerry's brand is hurt by company mandates to use the devices, Baker noted. In addition, some IT shops have policies restricting some functions of a BlackBerry smartphone for security or other reasons. The ability to restrict functions, such as the ability to play videos or streaming radio stations, is a key motivation for IT shops to select BES in the first place, Baker added.

Baker said he discussed the Crowd Science survey with a RIM executive during the PlayBook announcement and the executive expressed frustration that RIM has seen up to 500 different IT policies for setting controls on BlackBerry usage. Baker said the executive told him that "IT guys can lock down a BlackBerry so tight that a user can't watch videos" or do other things that end up limiting the user experience.

If IT managers implement similar controls on PlayBook users, then the multimedia features will be diminished, Baker said. And what makes the PlayBook attractive, at least in part, in comparison to the 9.7-in. iPad from Apple, are the multimedia features.

Baker suggested that RIM might have to move to a model Apple uses, and let BES control only corporate data on the PlayBook, while leaving a user's personal data and functions alone.

"RIM is positioning PlayBook as a tablet for the [corporate worker] but I'm not so sure that's smart positioning," Baker added. "They have to change their messaging if they want consumers. Consumers don't care about IT control and remote wipe; they want a sexy device. RIM has to focus more on the consumer-like pitch, while not abandoning IT."

Meanwhile, Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, wondered if the PlayBook can fully serve business users as a stand-alone device. With its 7-inch display, it will almost certainly need a physical keyboard for document creation, linked by Bluetooth, as the iPad provides, he noted. And he wondered how easily PlayBook will link to the BES on its own without a smartphone connection.

"There are a number of questions RIM didn't answer and they probably don't even know the answers yet," he said. Noting RIM's disclosure that a BlackBerry smartphone would be needed to link to the BES, he added, "You've almost got to be a current BlackBerry user to like this PlayBook."

Baker said PlayBook's success will hinge on whether it can appeal to consumers while also filling the needs of IT shops and business users.

Gold added that RIM appears to be linking the future growth potential for PlayBook and other devices to the new QNX Software-based OS inside the new tablet that enables connections to Adobe Flash and features such as location services, audio and video -- all primarily consumer-centric features.

"QNX brings a lot of stuff that could dramatically alter the core of the BlackBerry experience, and that's why BlackBerry needs them. It's about modernizing," Gold said.

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 © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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