BlackBerry Tablet: Timely or Folly?


The Wall Street Journal says Research in Motion will be launching the long-rumored BlackBerry Tablet early next week at its developer’s conference in San Francisco. The BlackPad, as it has been called by the press, is timed to help RIM compete with the iPad and the scores of Android tablets expected to hit the market in the next few months. If the rumors about the BlackPad pan out, RIM is either right on time to be competitive, or is shooting itself in the foot by tanking its brand-new smartphone operating system.

The BlackBerry tablet is firmly in the rumor category, but the WSJ article outlined enough detail to ratchet up speculation about what RIM might be planning. The 7-inch tablet is reportedly being manufactured by Quanta Computer of Taiwan, and will use chips from Marvell Technology Group. The operating system on the slate will not be RIM’s recently launched BlackBerry OS 6, but instead, will be an OS from QNX Software Systems, a company purchased by RIM earlier this year. QNX is known for making software used in mission-critical settings and automotive applications; it’s an interesting choice to run on a tablet.

RIM’s core business is the BlackBerry smartphone , and the tablet could cast a pall of doubt over that business since the company is passing over the BlackBerry OS 6 for this new QNX platform. The app ecosystem is vital to both the smartphone world and tablet ventures, and with two platforms in play, RIM will be creating a mass of confusion for developers. It will be difficult to get apps built for the tablet, and it may cause current BlackBerry smartphone app developers to drop out over uncertainty about the future of the platform. That would be very disruptive to RIM’s core business.

The rumors say that RIM will be moving its smartphone line to the QNX solution in the future. If that’s true, this could totally derail RIM’s effort to maintain smartphone market share in a highly competitive segment. The BlackBerry OS 6 has been heavily promoted by RIM of late, and to drop it for a new OS sends a terrible message to carriers, developers and customers.

I elaborated earlier this year why a BlackBerry tablet isn’t a good idea, and this new information about the BlackPad doesn’t change anything. If anything, it makes the outlook worse, as it’s looking like not only can the new tablet be an albatross around RIM’s neck, it could tank its core smartphone business. That’s a heck of a risk for any company to take.

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