Should RIM Make a BlackBerry Tablet?

BB Storm

If a BlackBerry tablet fell in a forest, would anybody hear it? We’ve been hearing rumors that RIM is hard at work on a BlackBerry companion tablet, fueled by reports that the company has ordered 8.9-inch displays for such a device. The question that keeps popping up every time I think of such an effort is — why? Sure, tablets are the hot ticket in mobile tech currently, but just pushing one to market isn’t going to guarantee a success.

A BlackBerry tablet would be intended to compete with the iPad and upcoming Android tablets obviously. These tablets certainly bear watching given the sales volume Apple has already achieved with the iPad, and the expectation that Android tablets will be cheap enough to make good sales numbers. But RIM lacks one thing required to make a competitive product — a viable OS.

The BlackBerry OS is dated and the next big version has only recently been put on display. It certainly looks like the UI has been updated and is more modern than the older version, but it’s still not clear how good the touch operation will be. A good touch interface is absolutely required for a tablet device, and it’s not a given that BlackBerry OS 6 will provide it.

It’s not even clear if BlackBerry enthusiasts want a device with a touch interface. They stayed away from the BlackBerry Storm in droves, the company’s only phone without a physical keyboard. The BlackBerry has long been famous for its keyboards, and a tablet certainly wouldn’t have one of those. While BlackBerry 6 may do a better job incorporating touch controls than previous versions, it is designed to run the BlackBerry phone line, and that is almost exclusively non-touch.

The tablet rumors indicate that RIM is building a tablet without phone capability; it’s expected to use Wi-Fi for connectivity. That’s like the original iPad, but Apple planned the 3G version from the get-go to also allow the iPad to be a stand-alone mobile device for those who desired it. The RIM tablet is said to be a “BlackBerry companion”, and will mate with a BlackBerry smartphone to share user data. That sounds like the ill-fated Palm Foleo, and to believe there is a market for such a device now doesn’t make a lot of sense.

It’s not clear why RIM would produce such a tablet, and even less clear who might buy one. Let’s hope these BlackBerry tablet rumors are just that.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d): How Microsoft Can Win Back the Tablet Market

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