It's all been speculation and rumor for the last year, but now that the Wall Street Journal has joined the rumor mill, many are saying that Research in Motion will launch its top-secret "BlackPad", or Blackberry tablet, in San Francisco on Monday.
RIM, however, has declined to comment about "rumors and speculation," so as of yet there is no official word on the existence of the near-mythical BlackPad. Despite all that, let's take look at the potential pros and cons, and see if the BlackPad is a likely iPad Killer or simply another piece of hyped hardware.
The new, 7-inch screen seems to be where the industry is heading, with the Galaxy Tab and Cisco Cius also sporting same-size, diminutive displays. Apple is also rumored to be resizing its iPad screens for a more compact product. The smaller device can make the tablet more portable for employees, fitting easily into briefcases or handbags. While the BlackPad won't have a cellular carrier, it will be able to use tethering--using a Blackberry phone to gain access--but will also have a broadband connection, likely Wi-Fi, according to the rumors.
At Least One Built-in Camera
The BlackPad is also suspected to have one or two built-in cameras for easy videoconferencing between offices or locations, which, of course, also could be used for taking photos or recording video for company Websites or Facebook profiles. The iPad, as of yet, has no such thing.
RIM's Street Cred
RIM's business tools are universally respected for businesses, and many IT administrators like its platforms and administrative tools. There's hope that RIM's new tablet will be just as business-friendly, and possibly a real competitor for Apple. Unfortunately, the number of Blackberry devices have dwindled, but RIM still holds the majority of business market share, so it might be able to regain some of its lost customers.
Although the 7-inch touchscreen now seems to be de rigueur for new tablets, there still hasn't been a historical demand for such products, and it's unknown if there actually is one. It's still too big for pockets but also could be too small for nearsighted employees. For business purposes, the small screen may also not offer enough room to display software or applications effectively.
The BlackPad is reportedly using a new platform developed by QNX Software Systems, not the Blackberry 6 operating system. Reports say that RIM will eventually move its handsets to that same unnamed OS, but not much else is known about it. Some say it's likely going to be aimed at enterprise customers with an increased emphasis on corporate and government users.
That means if you're running RIM products now, it's likely you're going to be making a major investment in the next year to get on its newest OS. This could push companies into investing in other platforms like Android or the iPad.
One of the surefire problems with the new tablet will be a lack of applications. Apple and Android have hundreds of thousands of apps for their operating systems, making RIM's almost 9,000 apps appear anemic in comparison. Worse, for both the Apple iOS and Android platforms, there are far fewer apps made specifically for tablet displays rather than mobile phones. RIM will have to work hard in the next month to create specific applications for BlackPad use. They had better work quickly.
If the BlackPad is real, then RIM has placed itself in a precarious position of launching a new product and a new operating system without much infrastructure in place. That must change quickly if RIM intends on holding on to its marketshare and creating desire for its latest invention. Otherwise, customers will choose the easier and faster route of a known product while RIM continues to look for a winning strategy.
Reach or follow Barbara E. Hernandez on Twitter: @bhern.