Existing BlackBerry users are the target market for the new PlayBook tablet, according to Stephen Bates, MD of BlackBerry UK.
Speaking to Mobile at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Bates said: ‘We’ll probably begin with a narrow Q2 launch for the PlayBook, but we are talking to everybody at the moment about who will range it. We believe the PlayBook tablet will accelerate the growth of BlackBerry phones.’
RIM did not launch any new handsets at MWC but announced plans to offer two further versions of the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. There will be four versions: Wi-Fi; Wi-Fi and WiMAX; Wi-Fi and LTE; Wi-Fi and HSPA+. The last two versions are expected to be released during the second half of 2011.
Bates said: ‘One of the key differentiators of our tablet is that it gives you the internet as it is meant to be seen. It is not just a rendered webpage – what you get is a true desktop experience. What’s great is that you can exploit its multitasking abilities – you can have many applications and services open and running at the same time and see what they are.’
Consumerisation of work phones
Bates said that although both the government and corporate business markets were vital to RIM, the consumer side was also of great importance. ‘What we are seeing is increasing consumerisation, where personal devices are being used more and more for work purposes and vice versa,’ he said. ‘So the aim is not to have a personal and a work device, but to combine the two on your BlackBerry, whether it’s your own device or one issued by your employer.’
RIM has adapted its BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) software to unlock the personal side, so corporations can provide an integrated solution while users can still enjoy full personal use of their device.
Users can receive company emails or documents over the BES-secured email on their phone and download the information to their PlayBook to get the benefits of a large screen experience. Bates points out that users do not need two data plans to use the PlayBook in this way. In addition, the tablet’s HDMI port also allows the screen to be displayed on a larger monitor for presentations.
Bates said that corporations will want to maintain the security provisions on the PlayBook that BlackBerry is renowned for. The BlackBerry Bridge software provides a secure Bluetooth link between the phone and tablet to ensure the BES security on the handset is maintained on the PlayBook.
Having a proprietary operating system means RIM still faces a struggle to attract developers in its bid to catch up with Apple and Android in terms of apps. RIM’s BlackBerry App World currently has around 20,000 apps, compared with the 100,000 plus apps available from the Android Market.
However, Bates thinks that RIM is now in a better position to get the attention of developers. He said: ‘BlackBerry App World is in over 100 markets now. It’s important to have that distribution, as it gives developers throughput for their apps across 100 markets.
‘We are also the number one smartphone and OS in the UK and that’s an important message to get over to developers,’ he continued. ‘We are trying to drive differentiation in apps by making fewer of them, but ones that work really well. For example, our eBay app sends you an alert when you’ve been outbid, so you don’t have to keep going onto eBay to check.’
Integrated carrier billing
Bates cited other recent developments to attract users such as its integrated carrier billing offering, where users can buy an app from BlackBerry App World and have it charged to their carrier bill. The deal is very attractive to carriers as it finally provides a way for them to get revenue share from apps. RIM is working with Telefónica, Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom to bring the offering to market.
Another new development is the BBM mobile gifting platform, where authorised BlackBerry users can gift airtime credit, apps or other carrier services to another BlackBerry user and the money gets charged to their carrier bill. For example, a parent can top up their child’s prepay allocation and have it charged to the parent’s bill.
‘We think this is a powerful offering for our carrier partners and developers,’ said Bates. ‘We like to take a collaborative approach and work with partners such as carriers.’
RIM No 1 smartphone in the UK
RIM sold 130 million phones in 2010, with approximately 12% of its revenue deriving from the UK market. In the UK, it was the number one smartphone in December 2010, according to GfK figures, with a 36% smartphone market share and a 14.9% share of the total UK handset market.