Worse, the iPad can be used in the exact scenario that RIM has assigned to the PlayBook: You can get a Wi-Fi-only model and use policies to restrict it to specific wireless networks, for example. (You can also use policies to turn off the 3G radio on the Wi-Fi+3G model.) Want to use the iPad for more communications-oriented purposes? No problem: Tether the Wi-Fi-only iPad wirelessly to a MiFi, a Verizon iPhone 4, or any hotspot-capable device -- not just an Apple unit -- or get the Wi-Fi+3G model and use any of the dozen mobile management tools to manage access. Sure, there's more control available for a BlackBerry than for an iOS device, but most companies don't need the extras.
Throw in the lack of apps (the PlayBook uses a new OS acquired from QNX, so developers must start over again) and the too-small seven-inch screen (which limits the kind of apps and data you can work with effectively), and you can see why the PlayBook doesn't appear all that compelling.
What else does RIM have up its sleeve? The Web's rumor mill is currently fixated on the BlackBerry "Dakota," apparently the smartphone replacement for the popular BlackBerry Curve cell phone. If the rumored specs are true, RIM will have a small smartphone that essentially copies the functionality of the BlackBerry Torch, but with a smaller screen and tighter keyboard. The Torch is a good BlackBerry, but it has created little passion, and for a user not wed to the BlackBerry approach (read: old fogeys), it is not as appealing as an iPhone or Android device.
I've had loaner models of a Torch and an Android-based Google Nexus that I've been letting dozens of people try out now for several months, along with an iPhone. The pattern is remarkably consistent for this wide range of users, all of whom I offer a weeklong trial if they'd like: They go for and stick with an iPhone or Android device; the Torch gets picked up and quickly put back down after a few minutes of use. It's not what people really want; it's not even what most BlackBerry users want, as surveys have shown.
So, a mini-me version of the Torch is unlikely to reverse RIM's slide into irrelevance, even with the addition of de rigueur new features such as hotspot capatility.
What can RIM do other than hang on to its change-averse customers who just want a texting device? I'd say tackle the embedded market, taking on Microsoft's Windows Compact Embedded (which is langushing, still based on the long-dead Windows Mobile 6) and Motorola Solutions' equally static Symbol division. But that's a real change from RIM's recent focus on expanding from business to individual users, and I'm not sure RIM can stomach the idea of abandoning that consumer-expansion plan, which it was slow to try in the first place, and look to be a supplier for warehouse stockers, truck drivers, pharmacy techs, and so on. But this logistics and field-force market is the one area -- a big one -- that hasn't really joined the mobile revolution.
HP's WebOS's best chance is to move beyond being a smartphone and tablet OS
Which brings me to HP and WebOS: Although HP periodically reminds people that it has plans for WebOS, it's been silent on matters of substance since the Palm acquisition last April. It did reveal WebOS 2.0, a fairly minor update, this past fall, though I've yet to see any devices using it. (The Palm Pre 2 is available as an unlocked GSM version, which means no carrier has picked it up, and the Palm website continues to say Verizon will offer it "soon.")
HP has said it will offer a WebOS-based tablet; presumably new smartphones that are more innovative than the now-dated Pre are coming too. An HP exec recently suggested HP has bigger plans for WebOS than as a smartphone and tablet OS. In the past, HP execs have implied it could be used for Internet-connected printers and multifunction devices.
Let's hope so because the smartphone and tablet market doesn't need another OS. WebOS would have to undergo major transformation to get any attention; WebOS 2.0 as demonstrated certainly won't do the trick. (Here's an idea: HP can buy Windows Phone 7 from Microsoft for its nice UI and graft that onto WebOS's core -- after modernizing the core, of course.)