My thoughts on the BlackBerry Playbook

BlackBerry teased the world with its Playbook offering yesterday and the geek world exploded between hails of “the iPad Killer hath arrived” to “meh”. BlackBerry has made some interesting choices with the Playbook. My personal thought is that in the end, the design by committee approach won over the hard core fanatics within Blackberry. The Playbook is trying to be too many things, for too many people, and therefore, doesn’t appear to have a solid unique value proposition over the current reigning king, the iPad (and please don’t tell me about the camera vs. no camera or two cores vs. one).

The mobile market is all about the ecosystem. The hardware hardly matters. If the OS has a robust ecosystem around it, the device will be successful. What apple did right with the iPad was that they tapped into the existing ecosystem (read app store and developer community) that was supporting the iPod/iPhone. This allows the iPad to have an inherent base of apps, process, store and developer community and provided the inertia that was needed to create a new product category.

What blackberry has done is develop a product with zero ecosystem. It uses QNX OS, not even the blackberry OS6. There is a very small and insignificant community and ecosystem around QNX outside of specialty markets (remote sensing, medical devices, etc.). Blackberry will need to work extremely hard to get a big chunk of developers to start developing for the QNX platform.

To their credit, they have allowed QNX development form a plethora of platforms and developer tools, using several different frameworks, including Adobe Air. This should help as it will lower the barrier to entry for developers using these platforms already. However, the chicken-egg problem remains. Without a user base, developers wont care to develop, maintain, deploy and market apps. Without apps, users wont flock to the platform.

One thing Blackberry can do that would jump start the process would be to engage with big name enterprise players and port existing enterprise apps/platforms to the QNX/Playbook form factor. In other words, if Blackberry could show that Oracle, SAP, SAS, Microsoft, IBM, Cognos, Business Objects, OPNet, Cisco, Lotus, VMWare, Tivoli, all have a footprint on the QNX/Playbook platform, that these enterprise apps seamlessly integrate with, or are available on QNX “out of the box”, it would make it very tempting for enterprises to chose the Playbook as the enterprise mobility platform. But for this to happen, Blackberry will need to show this capability immediately, preferably on launch day, and it must work flawlessly with 100% OEM Support.

Blackberry touts itself as the enterprise mobility player. They need to do this to be credible. These enterprise apps need to be much richer, much more secure, much better integrated and much more seamless than the average app you can find for the iOS or Android platform.

This is a tall order, and in order to pull this off, Blackberry will need to actively engage the big enterprise players in addition to the independent developer community. Time is already slipping as major enterprise players like Business Objects/SAP have recently announced full integration and platform support of the iPad (followed by purchasing over 1000 iPads for the SAP workforce in the US). Others will follow suit if the iPad continues to be the defacto king of the tablet market.

Blackberry has an advantage, which is the Blackberry Enterprise Server, ubiquitous in more enterprises. the BES can be leveraged to provide MUCH richer and seamless integration between the device and the systems/apps/content behind the firewall. The limitation of the blackberry device form factor and capabilities don’t exist anymore. There is no reason for the PlayBook to not be able to leverage back-end systems, BI, content, messaging, collaboration, ERP, CMS, CRM systems behind the firewall seamlessly, much the way email works. This is the golden ticket that no one else can compete with (except of course, Maybe Cisco and Microsoft).

Alas, Blackberry seems hell bent on marketing feeds and social and multi-media, and games, and HDMI capabilities. In the end, even in its name, the Playbook is trying to be “hip” while keeping that suit on. Blackberry can’t do both things well at the same time. Besides, its kind hard to compete with Apple in being “hip”. Good luck with that one.

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