IPad 2 launch date puts RIM at risk: analysts

Apple's March 11 launch date for the iPad 2 makes the release of the BlackBerry Playbook in April risky, analysts say.

Playbook disadvantaged by businesses' reluctance to embrace tablets

Selling the iPad 2 in advance of the Playbook's slated April 10 release date will give Apple an advantage in the tablet wars. (Isaac Brekken/Associated Press)
Apple's March 11 launch date for the iPad 2 makes the release of the BlackBerry Playbook the following month risky — despite RIM's dominance in the corporate market, analysts say.

RIM unveiled its soon-to-launch tablet computer last September in an effort to compete with Apple's popular iPad. However, technology watchers are questioning the Playbook's chances of success in the market after Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the new version of the iPad and announced its imminent launch at a media event earlier this week.

In the mobile space, Research in Motion's legacy as a developer of a secure and well-encrypted platform guarantees the company significant market share. However according to technology market analysts, marketing tablet computers will be a new challenge for the Waterloo, Ont.-based company as it prepare to launch the Playbook in April.

"RIM has an advantage in terms of security with corporations … but [the IT industry] has not yet embraced tablets," said market analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group. "As a result, the Playbook may not get a lot of play."

Enderle is joined by other observers in his skepticism. Philip Redman, research vice-president at Gartner Research, hopes that more will become clear as RIM's release date nears.

"There's a lot of questions that need to be answered before the Playbook can be adopted by businesses," said Redman.

Tablets provide neither the communication capabilities of smart-phones nor the productivity of a full-fledged notebook or desktop computer, so they have to show that they can excel in many situations before businesses will invest in them, said Redman.

Corporations may not choose the iPad either

A security firm has warned the Canadian government that cabinet ministers should stop using the iPad for official business, as reported The Globe and Mail.

Malicious users can hack the device with ease, according to the company, and this puts sensitive information at risk.

Darren Meister, associate professor of information systems at the Richard Ivey School of Business, said it is unlikely that Apple's tablet will ever be as secure as other tablets.

"Apple, of course, cares about security, but their main value proposition is ease-of-use and sometimes those can be contrasting priorities," he said.

"Right now, tablets are not replacing any...devices. It's an additional cost that most companies aren't willing to incur."

Shane Schick, editor-in-chief of IT World Canada, agrees that businesses could be more reluctant to adopt the Playbook than BlackBerry smartphones.

"Companies are generally very hesitant to buy anything en masse," said Schick. "They like to wait for these things to have been on the market for a while."

These uncertainties mean the Playbook is positioned precariously between a corporate market that rarely adopts new technologies on a large scale and the consumer market which, at this point, is locked-up by Apple's iPad and to a lesser extent, Google Android-based tablets.

Though a February report by Strategy Analytics found that Google's Android platform had eroded nearly 20 per cent of the iPad's early market share — dropping it to 75 per cent — Enderle did not doubt that Apple would continue its dominance through this year.

By boasting about impressive e-book sales and new music and video editing applications during the iPad 2 announcement Wednesday, Steve Jobs has sent a clear message that the company intends to secure mainstream consumers before competitors can.

Enderle said there will be alternatives like the Playbook for consumers, but they are "still only an alternative ... the underlying issue is that Apple controls the dialogue and as long as they control it, it doesn't matter how good the alternative is.

"To have a chance, RIM would need to come in much cheaper than the iPad — which it isn't — or be better, and the Playbook doesn't do that either," he said.

However Schick is more optimistic and believes that if RIM plays its cards right, it can appeal to consumers who find that the iPad 2's specifications will not allow for as much mobility as the Playbook.

The Playbook is almost eight centimetres smaller and more than 150 grams lighter than the iPad 2. A smaller screen is expected to mean that RIM's tablet will outlast the iPad's advertised 10 hour battery life.

"IPad 2 doesn't have significant improvements over its predecessor," said Schick. "If RIM can have a compelling story to tell around weight and battery life, it can be successful."