|RIM's battle is a long and tiring one against the predominant mobile platforms in the industry. Photo: Jon Snyder/Wired.com|
This is good news for some — namely, Apple and Google. The two dominant mobile application platforms currently offer the majority of smart-device apps, boasting numbers in the hundreds of thousands. But for underdogs like RIM, it foretells a grim outlook on the future of the company’s mobile platform.
In an effort to claw its way back into the game, RIM has settled on a new strategy. Effective today until Feb. 13, every Android developer who ports an Android application over to the BlackBerry ecosystem will receive a free PlayBook, according to a recent tweet sent by RIM VP of developer relations Alec Saunders.
It’s part of a broader attempt to seed not only seed the market with devices but also spur further app development. The more hardware on the market, the more likely developers will create code for the tablets. At first blush, this may seem like an effective strategy. But some analysts say RIM is going about this in the wrong way.
“Developers don’t need free devices to develop. They target those platforms that give them the biggest chance to sell their products,” Gartner analyst Phillip Redman told Wired. “Those that have larger market share will attract more developers.”
The app worlds of Apple and Google dwarf RIM’s offering, which stands at approximately 50,000 apps. To be fair, that’s about what you get with Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS, and it’s far more impressive number than, say, the 10,000-odd apps available for HP’s ill-fated webOS. But it’s literally one-tenth the number of apps Apple has in its App Store.
The good news is that RIM is trying. Amid a hostile mobile environment with its own collapsing market share, RIM released its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet in April of last year, the supposed comeback device that would leverage RIM’s enterprise strength with enhanced security options, while simultaneously going after the consumer market and, ultimately, taking on the iPad.
Well, that didn’t work. The PlayBook was a complete flop, with shipping estimates in the hundreds of thousands for 2011. Compare that to iPad sales, which reached nearly 15 million in the company’s first fiscal quarter alone. Thus RIM’s new strategy: Give ‘em away.
But this may not work either. What incentive do developers have to create more apps for PlayBooks when it’s other developers — not consumers, the main purveyors of apps — who are getting all the free PlayBooks? Think of it as play for market traction, only backwards. If anything, it makes more sense to seed devices with consumers, a tack RIM has attempted to take in recent months.
Last year, during Black Friday — a veritable holiday celebrating capitalism in the U.S. — RIM slashed prices of existing PlayBook inventory to a fraction of the $500 they initially sold for, causing a rapid sell-out in third-party retailers and a back-log of orders at RIM’s warehouses (immediately inviting comparisons to HP’s TouchPad fire sale earlier in the year). RIM liked the promotion so much the company tried it again in January.
The other side of RIM’s latest effort is also strange. Let’s parse it out: Android developers will get a free BlackBerry tablet if they port an Android app to work in the PlayBook’s virtual Android environment. The idea is to leverage the existing glut of Android apps available by allowing developers to bring them over to RIM’s PlayBook.
The question is: how compelled am I to purchase a BlackBerry device in order to use Android apps? Why not just purchase an Android device?
Rather than leech off of Android’s superior market position, RIM’s best bet at this point is to beef up its handset and tablet portfolio with quality products. Or as IDC analyst Al Hilwa puts it: “There is very little magic RIM can do with consumer ecosystems at this point except deliver killer devices that consumers want to buy.”
RIM was unable to make an executive available for interview before this story’s time of publication.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’ll see those devices any time soon. RIM announced its latest line of BlackBerry 10 smartphones — the one line to bring the PlayBook’s QNX operating system to smartphones for the first time — will be delayed until late 2012, a release date much further off than the company had originally anticipated.
We have hope. The PlayBook was rushed out the door to make its April 2011 debut last year, and summarily crashed and burned. If the company can take its time with its OS revamp, perhaps it can find its way back to a seat at the mobile ecosystem table.