The latest news on the tablet industry: Research in Motion (RIM) has confirmed that it will release the BlackPad, a direct competitor with the iPad, in November. The BlackPad will be a comparative device to the iPad, offering the same screen size (9.7"), Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. It will also be priced comparatively, suggesting it will start at around $499 (the iPad's starting price).
So, can the BlackPad compete with the iPad? I believe so, but it depends on what market RIM targets. I would split BlackPad's potential audience (broadly) into the following three segments:
Low-tech consumers. This audience wants a trendy device for watching movies, playing music and games, and reading books. It is most likely the iPad's primary audience, and BlackPad will be hard-pressed to compete given that most of Apple's products are already very popular with this audience (and since BlackBerry's app store can't compete with Apple's). Finally, if the BlackBerry Storm is any indication, RIM should shy away from targeting consumers too heavily.
Enterprise staff. This includes the larger market of business users in general. For this audience to use any tablet, the organization must feel that it offers value to employees. I'm hesistant to see tablets as very useful for this (what can they do for corporate employees that a laptop and smartphone can't?), so I don't think this will be a core audience. (However, for those in this segment that do use a tablet, I think the BlackPad would be a superior choice to the iPad, because of the enterprise support from BlackBerry's OS.)
Consumer and enterprise customers. This category consists of business executives and managers who want to use the device for a mix of consumer and enterprise functions. A business executive might initially want the tablet because it's cool, but then use it for web browsing, watching news video, checking email, and reading some documents while on the subway, for instance. This could be a core audience for the BlackPad, as BlackBerry 6.0 is a far more enterprise-focused OS than iOS 4 (although the gap is shrinking), and therefore IT is going to be more likely to support it (on the employee's dime, not the company's).
RIM's Strategy for Success
Given that the iPad is already a raging success in the consumer market, and that half a dozen tablets are on the horizon with Android, Windows, and webOS, RIM needs to be careful with how it markets the BlackPad. Being just another face in the crowd is the kiss of death for any product in a hot market, as we saw with many great smartphones such as the Palm Pre.
Here's what I think RIM needs to do to succeed:
Go after the iPad. One of the most successful advertising campaigns we've seen in the past six months has been the Droid Does campaign, which made clear statements about how the Droid competes with the iPhone. Given that the BlackPad will be number two in this new breed of tablet devices, comparisons to the iPad are inevitable and RIM should field them head on.
Target the high-end consumers. Do some market research on where business executives are spending their time, and market there. Show that the BlackPad can be cool but can hold its own on doing real work. And please, don't use Black Eyed Peas for your next video.
Start working on that app store—now. BlackBerry's App World thus far has little to show for itself. If RIM doesn't want to invest the time and energy into getting 10 million apps, that's fine. But they do need to find out what the top 50 enterprise-related apps are in today's app markets and get those developers on the phone. Get them the information they need to start working on BlackPad versions, yesterday. That way, when the BlackPad comes out, it can compete head-to-head in business-related apps and also offer the benefits of BlackBerry 6.0.
Do you think the BlackPad will succeed? Chime in on the comments or on Twitter. Or, if you'd rather sound off on the name BlackPad (which is all that anyone in the tech sphere is talking about), take the poll below.