Version 2 of Playbook OS Still Underwhelming

A recent Forbes piece outlines the newest version of QNX for Playbook, specifically talking about some of it’s shortcomings. The article links to an article that describes RIM’s attempt to woo new developers, through a program to get a free Playbook for developers who port their existing iOS or Android app to Playbook. The developer article boasts about 1,500 new app submissions and 6,600 new developers. Again, the point is missed.

Sure, adding 6,600 new developers is pretty good. But, consider the following: there are about 140,000 publishers of apps on the iTunes App Store. There are 700 new app submissions each day. So those 1,500 new app submissions represent a little over 2 days of submissions for Apple. The Android Market has very similar numbers. While the RIM numbers sound big, in context they really aren’t.

Move To Android

There is an easy way (well, relatively easy) for RIM to get access to over 100,000 developers: use Android instead of QNX. Sure, the new Playbook OS has an Android emulator, but it comes with so many limitations and caveats that I’m not sure how many apps are going to successfully work on it. But actual support for real Android would mean that Android apps would work. Sure, it means RIM wouldn’t get to participate in the app revenue stream. But right now, that revenue stream is negligible anyways. There are more apps downloaded in any single month for either iOS or Android than are downloaded from Blackberry App World in a single year. Giving up a small revenue stream to instead stand a chance at gaining back marketshare and unit sales might be worth the price.

But wouldn’t that make the Blackberry a “me too” device? What’s to differentiate it from the Galaxy’s and Droids of the world right now? RIM could do three things that would make their devices “better”. First, they could enhance the security in Android. Android’s open nature is great in some ways, but also a source for potential viruses, trojans and other problems. RIM has some experience in building secure environments, and they could bring that to bear in enhancing Android for their own purposes.

Second, they could add BBM support, and limit it to just Android-based Blackberries. It could still interact with the exiting Blackberry line, but it would give them a leg up in the Android universe. They could also look at selling a version of BBM for Android and iOS for those “other devices”. Look at having 2 levels of BBM service for non-Blackberry devices: a free service with either ads or limits of some kind, or a premium service with a monthly or annual fee that would offer more.

Last, they could add in tight and secure integration with BES. A part of the success for Blackberry in the enterprise was the secure interconnection between the devices and the corporate communications infrastructure. This could be a good reason for companies to move to Android. Right now, the trend is to abandon Blackberry for iPhone. A “better” operating system isn’t going to change that, because the operating system isn’t the problem. It’s the lack of apps and the ability to make the Blackberry as productive (or the perception of not being able to make it productive) is what is pushing it out the door. These devices aren’t just about e-mail, calendar and contacts integration. Companies want more, and they believe the iPhone gives them that.

It Will Be Work, But…

I don’t want to minimize the effort it would take to get Android working on Blackberries. Yes, it could take a year or more. But, there may be some motivation (e.g. we get to keep making devices and money) that could be an incentive to get it done faster. Either way, RIM is still months, if not a year, away from having their first BB10 (the QNX-based OS) smartphones ready to go. In the mean time, they continue to be ignored by developers. They still don’t have much in the way of useful content, and are still contending with a tarnished, if not damaged, brand (cartoon characters? So-called “music innovators” that need “tools not toys”, but sound more like tools themselves? This is how you repair your brand image?). While they continue to believe that the problem is a technological one, nothing will really change.

This next Playbook OS is symptomatic of that myopic view: it is about supposedly “better” technology. Technology isn’t the problem. The problem is that it is a platform people don’t want because it doesn’t offer what the others do. Picking a platform that is rich in apps and content would go a long way to giving RIM a chance.