The arrival of the BlackBerry PlayBook earlier this month has caused much consternation among the CIOs, IT experts and BlackBerry users who’ve been eagerly awaiting it. All of a sudden everyone’s asking: What hath RIM wrought?
There’s a lot going on here, and it’s not just about what’s right and wrong with the latest overhyped gadget. Things are changing quickly in the realm of smartphones and smart devices, and this closely watched product launch is just one symptom.
To back up a bit, most casual observers misunderstood the seven-inch PlayBook to be RIM’s iPad competitor, an entry into the tablet wars that would do it all, albeit in a smaller form factor that would be a little cramped but convenient. They were wrong.
From the beginning, RIM positioned the PlayBook as an accessory to the BlackBerry you already own, a gadget that would give you a bigger and more comfortable way to interact with your e-mail, calendar and address book, which would all continue to reside on the phone. Unfortunately, most people didn’t grasp this philosophy, so the initial reviews were inevitable: “It’s dumb. It’s underpowered. It’s no iPad.” No, it certainly isn’t, and it wasn’t meant to be.
So what went wrong? As Farhad Manjoo so ably explained at Slate, RIM has been going off the rails lately, with its two—not one but two—CEOs seemingly unable to articulate the company’s vision for an increasingly tablet-driven future. As Manjoo notes, RIM got rich selling very secure devices to CIOs who appreciated the kind of corporate lockdown that BlackBerry e-mail could provide.
The trouble is, being friendly with CIOs doesn’t matter as much as it used to. Nowadays people don’t ask the tech guy which mobile gadgets pass muster. Instead, tech guys look to employees to decide which gadgets to support. RIM’s strategy—to infiltrate companies as a first step to becoming a mass-market hit—has been eclipsed by the Apple approach, which is to infiltrate schools and homes, and then hope that regular people nag their IT guys to let them use iPads at work, too.
Correct. From Cisco’s murder of the Flip camera to Palm’s tragic journey through several enterprise owners, each one of which diminished it further, we keep seeing enterprise-class hardware makers fall prey to Apple envy, thinking they, too, can wow consumers with coolness. But how rare that is. I, for one, did not buy a Dell HDTV. That’s for sure.
Do you agree with Manjoo that the rank-and-file masses are now more in control of buying decisions than the CIOs who’ve been making those decisions for decades? If so, this upside-down world will take some getting used to.
It’s another manifestation of the “bring your own tech” phenomenon that we’ve covered before, noting the “consumerization of IT” has gained momentum as tablets and Web-based apps have become popular. It looks like up to 20 percent of Fortune 1000 companies are on the verge of letting their workers use their personal tablets—the vast majority of which are iPads—for business work. What a cultural change to have workers say to IT, “I’m gonna use my device no matter what, so it’s up to you to make sure it syncs with e-mail and the network.” Can IT stand this loss of control? Apparently, if the pundits are right, it has no choice. The masses are speaking, and employee morale is more important than the potential security holes presented by a diversity of devices in the workplace. Yes, indeed, the truly mobile-equipped enterprise will be tough to build.