RIM’s forthcoming BlackBerry PlayBook tablet will be entering a highly competitive market burdened with a relatively short-life battery and minimal app store monetization, according to a research note authored by Kaufman Bros. analyst Shaw Wu.
The company has made “good progress” on the device, Wu made a point of noting, but talks with industry and supply chain sources have led him to conclude that RIM may need to re-engineer its battery to match competitors on the market, namely the Samsung Galaxy Tab, with its six-hour battery life, and the iPad, with its 10-hour battery life.
Wu did not return a call from the E-Commerce Times by press time. RIM was also not immediately available for comment.
Made for Bigger Things
One source of the PlayBook’s battery problem may be the device’s mobile operating system, QNX, which was originally designed for larger-scale uses, such as running network equipment, Wu suggested in his note.
If RIM does re-engineer the battery to meet QNX’s specs, the end result could be a bigger and heavier PlayBook. This dilemma may well be why RIM postponed its release date to May 2011, he said.
The PlayBook will measure 5.1 inches by 7.6 inches by 0.4 inches and weigh 0.9 pounds, according to RIM’s announcement of the device in September.
The lack of a monetization path for potential app developers also threatens the PlayBook’s success — and that’s an issue that a new OS or battery would not address, Wu pointed out. BlackBerry App World currently has about 15,000 apps, which will not impress would-be consumer purchasers who would find many times more apps available to them with an Android or Apple device.
For all these reasons, Wu believes RIM will sell about 700,000 PlayBooks next year — a paltry figure compared to projections for the iPad and other popular tablets.
Without having seen the device, it is difficult to speculate whether Wu is accurate in his portrayal of the PlayBook and its supposed battery problems, Azita Arvani of the Arvani Group told the E-Commerce Times.
Assuming that he is, there are likely three culprits — besides the OS — causing trouble, she said.
It could be that RIM is using a commercial off-the-shelf battery, which hasn’t been customized to provide a great amount of power.
“Both iPad and Galaxy Tab have customized batteries,” Arvani noted.
Or, it could be that the processor is too much of a power hog, she continued. “RIM is using a dual-core ARM processor from TI and that may be using a lot of power.”
Finally, the problem may be the way RIM has implemented the QNX operating system for the PlayBook.
“QNX is a stable OS for embedded systems and it is generally known to be very efficient,” explained Arvani, “but the specific implementation for PlayBook may not be working as efficiently.”
Whatever the cause, Wu has dealt the PlayBook a sharp blow, and RIM only has a short time to recover from it, Laura DiDio, principal at ITIC, told the E-Commerce Times.
“Competition is so intense in this space that anything — and certainly that includes news of a short-lived battery or too few apps — could have an impact on sales,” she said.
The issue of apps was already well known, but Wu spotlighted a weakness of the PlayBook that the market previously hadn’t focused on, said DiDio. “If a weak battery becomes associated with the PlayBook, that could also erode, to a certain extent, RIM’s brand in the smartphone space,” DiDio said.
RIM has about nine months following the PlayBook’s release to correct any perceptions of weakness, she estimated, before permanent damage is done to the overarching brand.
“Normally, I wouldn’t be so negative and would put the time line at closer to eighteen months, were it not for the fact that smartphone and tablets are so white hot right now,” said DiDio. “These guys are doing everything they can to one up each other.”
Some Breathing Room
There is no mobile battery on the market right now that will make everyone happy, maintained James Brehm, a senior consultant with Frost & Sullivan, who told the E-Commerce Times that he doubted Wu’s portrayal of the PlayBook’s performance.
“I think it is premature for anyone to say a device needs to be re-engineered before it even comes out,” said Brehm. “RIM is still working on this, so let’s see what they produce.”