PlayBook tablet set to ‘amplify’ BlackBerry success in India

Playbook

The 7-inch tablet has a nice form factor. It is packed with features.

RIM launches its PlayBook tablet in India. With unique features like easy connectivity to the Internet and TV; easy manipulation of BlackBerry handset data and applications; uncompromised Web browsing; free user-to-user Wi-Fi video, Flash and HTML 5 support; HD multimedia and gaming; multi-tasking — all packed into a small form factor device — PlayBook is poised to capture a major chunk of the Indian tablet market

Research In Motion (RIM), the makers of the popular BlackBerry phones launched its PlayBook tablet in India. At a glittery launch event, attended by a posse of 100 media persons, RIM got a top Bollywood actor to launch its much-awaited tablet. But what chance does the PlayBook have in a crowded tablet market that has two dominant players (Apple and Samsung)? And what are the product differentiators to catch the attention of tech-savvy Indian consumers?

To find out, I spoke to Francois Mahieu, Senior Director, Head of Asia-Pacific Product Management, RIM. He also gave me a demo of the device before the press conference.

 “There are more than 200 tablets in existence (worldwide). But the tablet market (in India) is not yet mature; it is very open. I don’t think an Apple iPad or Samsung Galaxy are reference tablets here. These tablets have not achieved the same success as they have in other markets and I think PlayBook is poised to be the number one tablet here.”

Mahieu said he was confident because of the huge base of BlackBerry users in India. Also, some of the product features are unique and “good for the Indian market”. He is also counting on BlackBerry’s excellent reputation in the business world. Speaking at the launch, Frenny Bawa, Managing Director, India – RIM said, “With the launch of the PlayBook we are stepping into a different category of communication, computing devices, and mobility. With the PlayBook we intend to redefine the tablet space in India. The adoption of BlackBerry handsets in India is growing at a faster rate than the overall mobile market itself. The PlayBook has been built on our experience of the BlackBerry smart phone and we’ve just taken it one step further, and effectively amplified the experience of the BlackBerry smart phone into the tablet space.”

RIM is confident that its growing presence in India will contribute to the success of the PlayBook tablet, even though Apple, Samsung and others already offer tablets in this market. There are 1 million Blackberry users in India. RIM operates in close to 80 cities in India and its smart phones are available in thousands of outlets across the sub-continent. RIM has partnerships with nine telecom operators and has three distribution partners in India. It feels it has the right mix of products and plans that cater to the Indian consumer.

FEATURES & DIFFERENTIATORS

Indian consumers are tech-savvy and like feature heavy products. They are bound to be smitten by some of the unique features of the Playbook tablet.

Perhaps the most important one is the manner in which the PlayBook pairs with a BlackBerry smart phone. This is done over a Bluetooth connection. BlackBerry handset users must download a free application called BlackBerry Bridge from the BlackBerry AppWorld. Once you download and install it on your handset, you activate the Bluetooth connection. Then activate BlackBerry Bridge on the PlayBook (pre-installed) and it will detect and pair up with your handset. Enter the password and the current screen on the handset would appear on the PlayBook almost instantly. To navigate one touches the screen and applies short, quick vertical or horizontal finger strokes (as done on the optical trackpad of the handset).

With other tablets it is not as easy to pair the tablet and a handset. You either need to use Wi-Fi (which is not pervasive here) or you need to insert a SIM card. That means additional costs for the data card. The PlayBook utilizes the existing data plan of the handset and does not need a SIM card.

Once you pair the two devices you can read or send emails, edit documents or even project presentations or spreadsheets on to a big screen LCD TV. The PlayBook has a built-in micro-HDMI port for this purpose. It can also be tethered to a PC via its USB connection.

RIM has also taken steps to ensure that handset data is secure and not compromised if a PlayBook is stolen. Once the Bluetooth connection is broken all the copied data on the tablet is erased.

The other feature that will wow Indian consumers is the Web browsing experience. With support for Flash and HTML 5, backed by high-definition graphics, the tablet offers the same surfing experience that’s available on notebook computers. And since it can be connected to a TV, one can also watch YouTube videos or play games using a larger screen.

“So the PlayBook is really what we call a BlackBerry Amplifier — it offers a larger form factor to enhance the handset experience,” said Mahieu.  Speaking at the launch, Bawa said, “The PlayBook has been built on our experience of the BlackBerry smart phone and we’ve just taken it one step further effectively amplified the experience of the BlackBerry smart phone into the tablet space. The device fits the needs of professionals, prosumers, artists, designers, IT executives, and healthcare professionals. It can be used on the shop floor for production related tasks or for enterprise applications. It can also be used for customer facing applications too.

APPS

The success of tablets is also determined by the number of applications available and we wondered what kind of, and how many applications are available for PlayBook today.

“We have more than 17,000 application developers in India, the largest community in all of Asia Pacific. Out of the gate we have more than 100 applications available for the PlayBook. Some applications have been created specifically for Indian audiences,” said Bawa.

While there may be a lot of consumer-oriented applications, not too many business applications are available for the PlayBook today. Mahieu informed us that RIM is working with Microsoft, IBM, SAP and Salesforce.com to develop enterprise apps. Although it acknowledges a need for vertical specific enterprise apps (such as those used in healthcare), RIM believes that enterprise users will really be comfortable accessing corporate data via a Web browser. And the PlayBook has built-in VPN functionality for accessing corporate intranets.

The other bonus feature for enterprise users is free one-on-one video calls over Wi-Fi networks. A pre-loaded application, simply called Video Chat, could help enterprises cut down costs for internal communications.

PRICING AND AVAILABILITY

The PlayBook is available in three versions, depending on memory capacity required: The 16GB version is priced at Rs 27,990. The 32 GB  and 64 GB versions are priced at Rs 32,990 and Rs 37,990 respectively. It would be available at select retail outlets and users can try the product at Wi-Fi enabled experience zones around the country. The three national distributors are Redington India, Brightpoint India and Ingram Micro.

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Adapting iCloud for the enterprise

Here’s how Apple’s iCloud (or something similar) can be used in the business world

Journalists around the world  have been busy reporting about Apple’s iCloud service. This is really a service for consumers to store and access their digital media from a central resource (Apple’s data center in North Carolina), using any Apple device (iPad, iPhone, iMac etc). But how can an iCloud-like service be useful to business users? Manufacturers of business smart phones may want to consider some of the issues raised in this article.

Personally, I find it a challenge to synchronize my appointments, meeting schedules and documents between my handset, Outlook mail and my analogous diary. It is a daily juggling act.

Wish-list item #1: To access my tethered desktop from anywhere. By “anywhere” I mean, from a business center in Indonesia or New Delhi, from my home, or while commuting.  And everything on my desktop should be synchronized in real-time with a central resource, so that I always have access to updated versions of my documents.

Wish-list item #2: Enterprise user cloud service. I’d  be glad to pay for a service that lets me sync my entire desktop with a central resource — and I should be able to access my (virtualized) desktop using a browser from anywhere in the world.

What I am proposing is possible to some extent (email) using services offered by Nokia and Blackberry. And Microsoft offers its SkyDrive cloud storage service, which it is now adapting for Windows Phone Mango (expected later this year).

Wish-list item #3: Desktop backups to the cloud. If Microsoft SkyDrive was seamlessly integrated with Windows  XP/Vista/7 there would be a lot of potential for business use. Desktop backups for instance, would be easy and seamless.  And this is sure to address my daily juggling act. There’s a large base of Nokia smart phone users in India and a partnership with Microsoft on this front is sure to help Nokia regain lost market share.

RIM may also want to consider a cloud-like service that integrates with the Blackberry Desktop.

Meanwhile, there are folks like Dell who offer services like Desktop backup for enterprise users.