The Mobile Plot Thickens: The BlackBerry Tablet

Android Patently Challenged, Blackberry steps to the table(t)

A new tune?

For months it seems as though the noise in the main stream mobile market has been a two pony race.

It has been a contest between the dessert-minded OS gang from Google versus the black turtle-neck-wearing content-company otherwise known as Apple.

We’ve discussed many of the hilights here:

And so on.

But what about the other players in the mobile space? Surely they have not taken their track-ball and gone home? Nope.

The BlackBerry tablet.

For its part, the team at Research in Motion has not rolled over and cried “uncle”. They have chosen the innovation route and designed a tablet device.

Dubbed the “PlayBook”, RIM has leveraged their acquisition of Real Time OS (RTOS) vendor QNX, to produce a snazzy-looking tablet device. So, “how does it stack up to the iPad?” you ask.

At first blush, pretty well, as it boasts:

  • Enterprise collaboration features found in the core BlackBerry offerings.
  • 1 GHz Dual-core processor & 1GB RAM.
  • Multi-tasking capabilities in version one, not version “future”.
  • Flash Support. Yes, you know, that little technology that a handful of websites employ.
  • HTML 5 support, too.
  • Dual cameras to support video conferencing. 3 MP in front, 5MP in rear.
  • Connectivity — wifi, micro USB, and micro HDMI. The PlayBook can also pair with a later model (OS 5+) BlackBerry device via Bluetooth to gain access when out of range of a wi-fi signal.

The big challenge for the PlayBook is of course, content. The incumbent tablet with mind and market share is the iPad, which provides access to an unprecedented number books and applications to choose from today. BlackBerry cannot touch that today, so the question is whether this device can scale the enterprise walls in a meaningful way while applications are brought to market for this new OS.

The past year or so has been a somewhat confusing and dark time for BlackBerry developers as they have watched RIM sort out their path forward in light of the progress made by Apple and Google with their respective platforms. Developers no longer have to read between the tea-leaves as it looks like the BlackBerry OS will be replaced over time with QNX for BlackBerry smartphones as well. The PlayBook is the first of potentially many QNX-powered devices, though by the time the OS hits the smartphones it will be dubbed BlackBerry OS version something.

Speaking of replaced, that brings us to Microsoft who is making noise in a couple of ways lately.

Windows Phone 7 is Microsoft’s latest entrant to the highly competitive mobile market and will likely garner support from the Redmond faithful, but not before some blood spills.

Innovation or… litigation?

Windows Phone 7′s innovation may be trumped by the business move made by Microsoft as they have chosen to take a legal route to “complement” their innovation.

The bigger story, perhaps, is the action taken by Microsoft last week in the courtroom. Microsoft took a swipe at Android by attacking Motorola for patent infringement based on its Android capable devices such as the Droid and others. The claims are fairly broad and apply to many other mobile platforms — platforms which presumably have either licensed the technology from Microsoft already or are not enough of a concern for the Microsoft legal team.

I am no lawyer, and won’t pretend to have a complete handle on all of the claim this and claim that speak of the legal brief so please direct your inquiries directly to Microsoft or Motorola’s legal team.

Here are the areas that Microsoft is claiming infringement, as I understand them:

  1. The handling of long and short file names in the same file system. U.S. Patent No. 5,579,517
  2. Available memory monitoring techniques. U.S. Patent No. 5,758,352
  3. An Application Programming Interface (API) for software applications to interact with hardware-specific radio layers. U.S. Patent No. 6,621,746

  4. Contact database updates. U.S. Patent No. 6,826,762
  5. State notification architecture. U.S. Patent No. 6,909,910
  6. Context sensitive menus. U.S. Patent No. 7644376
  7. Off-line operation and synchronization. U.S. Patent No. 5,664,133
  8. Generation of meeting requests and group scheduling. U.S. Patent No. 6,578,054

Where will this all end? Good question — likely in some sort of licensing agreement so everyone can play nicely. For Microsoft’s part, they stand to gain some potentially non-trivial revenue from their rivals in the mobile arena — but at what cost? Most of the claims seem quite broad — and good for them for having a solid patent portfolio. But how will this play out in the court of public opinion — and in the Enterprise IT space where an increasing number of players like their Android devices? There is a moderate risk of an increasing number of companies taking a second look at alternatives to Microsoft’s enterprise solutions.

Regardless of the outcome, it should make for some good entertainment. Perhaps I’ll watch it on my BlackBerry PlayBook, should I pick one up. Or better yet, if RIM sends me one to try out. Hint, hint. Wink, wink.

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