RIM ‘BlackPad’ could face stormy reception

Research In Motion Ltd.’s rumoured BlackPad tablet reminds me a lot of the company’s touchscreen Storm device. That smart phone tried to attract both the consumer and enterprise markets, but ended up failing to reach either target.

The BlackPad is at risk of going down that same road and the latest rumours that have been leaking out of Waterloo, Ont., are doing little to help its cause.

Speculation from BlackBerryCool.com suggests the device will only offer Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, with 3G network connectivity only being available through a connection to a separate BlackBerry smart phone. Users should also expect front and rear facing cameras and a 9.7-inch display screen, the site reported.

Another report from DigiTimes says Taiwan-based notebook manufacturer Quanta Computer has been signed on to build the devices, with plans to ship about two million units in 2010 and eight million units in 2011. This report also suggests that the BlackPad will be priced at US$500 and will use Google’s Android operating system.

Yes, you read that correctly: BlackPad on Android.

That tidbit is pretty far-fetched and unless some kind of serious issue exists with the BlackBerry 6 OS that prevents it from working well on a larger form factor, I can’t see the company keeping it out of the new tablet.

But that aside, the leaked details give me the impression of an iPad knock-off, as opposed to an iPad killer.

The “front- and rear-facing camera” feature gives us a hint into RIM’s intentions with this device. This isn’t going to be a business tablet, like the Cisco Cius, but instead will be going after the same market Apple has been targeting.

Cisco’s lightweight Android-based device is still a long way from being completed, but the company is clearly positioning the tablet to businesses only. It has Wi-Fi, 3G/4G, and Bluetooth support and offers users secure access to Cisco’s suite of cloud-based communication products, including Cisco TelePresence.

The tablet will probably be bundled up to companies when they purchase other services, which could give it some real traction in Cisco shops.

Now I’m not suggesting RIM go the “business-only” route and ship the BlackPad exclusively to enterprises, but there’s something to be said for sticking with what you know.

While we haven’t been able to see BlackBerry 6 OS in action, it is unlikely to provide the same multimedia experience that Apple’s OS does. RIM has built an empire based on its excellence in e-mail and instant messaging.

Compare the current Apple and RIM television ads currently in rotation. Apple is pushing video calls on its latest iPhone 4 device, while BlackBerry is highlighting the wonder of its BlackBerry Messenger tool.

RIM has dominated the enterprise market because it was able to perfect the “e-mail services in your pocket” play.

Will organizations dish out the money for an oversized BlackBerry? What about any of these tablet devices in general? I’m betting they won’t.

Most BlackBerry users have chosen the device for its ability to securely send and receive instant messages and e-mail. BlackBerry has never been able to provide the apps or the rich media experience, which will make the bigger form factor irrelevant.

If the tablet ends up actually using the Android OS, you can throw everything I just said out the window. But if we see BlackBerry 6 OS ported over onto the bigger screen, expect a mixed reaction from consumers and almost no reaction from businesses.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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