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RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) this week finally gave a launch date and pricing for its much-anticipated PlayBook tablet, and the BlackBerry maker looks like it is really going for its tablet debut with both barrels: today RIM also announced that the tablet would support Android and Java apps, in a bid to broaden the ecosystem and appeal of its tablet device. But RIM may be swimming against a strong tide. While the company reported a boost in net profits for the last quarter, it also warned that it will miss expectations in the quarter ahead, as it spends heavily on R&D and to get that tablet some traction.
RIM’s Android announcement capped off weeks of speculation about how and if the PlayBook would work with Android software, and answered questions about how and if people would be able to use Java apps from BlackBerry devices on their RIM tablets.
In today’s announcement, RIM said that it would offer two extra “app players” for the tablet, which users could download from RIM’s App World storefront, that would allow users to download apps designed for Android version 2.3, and the BlackBerry Java app platform. These will then reside and run within their own “secure sandbox” (presumably created and worded this way to ward off worries about security from open-source applications?).
Adding Android and Java are part of a wider attempt from RIM to expand in other areas: games developers can create work on platforms from Ideaworks Labs and Unity Technologies; and coders can also create 2D and 3D apps using C/C++. Before today, RIM already offered support for HTML5, Flash and AIR on the PlayBook.
The news, in one way, was something of an admission from RIM that at this point, when it comes to tablets, its own ecosystem is in no shape to compete against the likes of Apple (NSDQ: AAPL). But it also shows that RIM is now just trying to move on from that. This move hugely expands the amount of content that a user will have for the PlayBook — Android alone currently has around 200,000 apps, while BlackBerry’s App World has another 25,000.
The move today is designed not only to attract more developers to the Playbook (after a couple of spectacular hiccups), but potentially to draw in some of the many people who have remained on the sidelines waiting to see what tablets hit the market next. According to February figures from the Pew Research Center, only about four percent of adults in the U.S. own a tablet computer.
Will it work seamlessly to run Android apps on PlayBook’s QNX operating system, and will adding these extra content platforms to the mix actually give the PlayBook the polish it needs to outshine other tablet makers? We will have see how this plays out when the WiFi-only devices go on sale on April 19.
In the meantime, RIM is grappling with worries from investors that all this time and money being spent on its next generation of devices will be weighing down the company’s financials. In its earnings reported today after the close of markets in New York, RIM noted that net profit for the last quarter grew 32 percent to $934 million, on sales of 14.9 million BlackBerry smartphones in the quarter. But its revenues of $5.6 billion just missed average estimates from analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.
Slightly more worryingly, RIM warned that earnings for the current quarter would fall short of expectations. Specifically, RIM says it is expecting earnings per share between $1.47 and $1.55 while analysts were looking for $1.66; and RIM expects revenue between $5.2 billion and $5.6 billion, while analysts had been looking for $5.65 billion.
Why the warning? RIM’s reasons are many: the ongoing, strong competition in handsets, resulting in lower average selling prices; higher investment in R&D and sales and marketing for the PlayBook and its platforms overall; and even potential disruption to the supply chain from events in Japan.