While the launch of the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet is grabbing the headlines, perhaps the most significant message to come out of the BlackBerry developer event in San Francisco this week is that RIM aspires to be a tier one mobile software and services player rubbing shoulders with Google and Apple.
As Nokia’s travails are demonstrating, that is a pretty big leap for a device manufacturer to achieve, but RIM’s messaging expertise does give it a solid platform from which to jump.
As well as unveiling the seven-inch Playbook tablet, RIM has announced the Blackberry Advertising Service, which establishes the Canadian company as an intermediary between apps developers and several advertising networks. The service, which will give RIM a strategic foothold in the online advertising market, is designed to enable developers to easily drop adverts into apps in the same way that websites can easily add Google Ads.
Building on the success of its Blackberry Messenger service, which now claims 28 million users (including many teenagers), RIM is also venturing deeper into the social networking space. Its planned BlackBerry Messenger Social Platform will be a suite of app development tools that can tap the messaging service, just as apps tap Twitter today. Scheduled for launch in the spring, the Social Platform is intended to enable people playing a game, or using a location-based app, to chat, share content or send invites via Blackberry Messenger.
The Ontario-based company was also careful not to neglect its core customer base – big companies. In San Francisco, it previewed its BlackBerry Enterprise Application Middleware, designed for integration with corporate app development platforms, such as IBM WebSphere, Oracle Fusion Middleware and the mobility platform from SAP and Sybase. The middleware is designed to make it easier to build apps that can access instant data push and alerts, use efficient file transfers with enterprise applications, and query a device for location, presence, current camera image, calendar availability and other capabilities.
A leaf out of Apple’s PlayBook?
Of course, much of this strategic positioning within the mobile software and services space will be overshadowed by the debate about whether the PlayBook is a worthy challenger to Apple’s iPad. For me, the PlayBook’s seven-inch screen is the ideal display size for a tablet. It also has several features the iPad lacks, such as support for Flash 10.1, plus an arsenal of security features designed to appeal to corporate IT managers.
Although the first iteration of the PlayBook will be WiFi-centric and will lack built-in mobile connectivity, it will be able to use Bluetooth to view content and access apps on the user’s BlackBerry smartphone
Crucially, the PlayBook put RIM’s Web browsing and entertainment credentials fully in the spotlight, exposing an area in which it has so far failed to mount a telling challenge to Apple. The PlayBook has a new operating system, presumably orientated towards multimedia, and its hardware specs look impressive enough, but RIM is clearly playing catch-up. By the time the PlayBook comes out in the spring, the iPad will almost be a year old and Apple may raise the bar again.
Still, RIM’s announcements show it has a broad and far-reaching software and services strategy: It is saying and doing the right things to maintain developer, consumer and enterprise engagement with the BlackBerry ecosystem. Moreover, the Canadian company has momentum, having maintained extraordinarily high-levels of revenue growth through the recession, while extending its fan base well beyond Wall Street and the City of London.
But I do have two concerns. Firstly is RIM moving quickly enough? Many of this week’s announcements may not come to fruition for six months and a lot can come out of Silicon Valley in that time. Secondly, can the BlackBerry brand continue to resonate with both be-suited business people and edgy teenagers?
Conjuring up both fun and business jargon, the PlayBook moniker shows the tightrope RIM is walking. Up to now, RIM’s strategists and marketers have done a great job keeping both constituencies happy, but as smartphones go mass-market, RIM has a titanic marketing battle ahead of it. Designing billboards and television commercials that appeal to both fathers and their daughters isn’t easy.
This article was first published on the GSMA’s Mobile World Live portal. David moderates discussion forums on the site and is a freelance media and investor relations consultant.
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members