Could the BlackBerry PlayBook be a revelation for computing or a new headache for IT managers?

Opinion by Dan Raywood

In the laptop arena, 2010 has been the year of the tablet computer.

In the laptop arena, 2010 has been the year of the tablet computer.

With commercial attention driven to the market with the launch of the Apple iPad earlier this year, Dell has followed suit with the Streak and now Research in Motion (RIM) joined in too with the launch of the BlackBerry PlayBook.

RIM describes the PlayBook as ‘perfect for either large organisations or an army of one'. It apparently includes web browsing, multitasking and multimedia with advanced security features, out-of-the-box enterprise support and a development platform for IT departments and developers.

As for features, it is reportedly less than half an inch thick and weighs less than a pound and features a 7” high resolution display. It is jointly fuelled by a 1GHz dual-core processor and the new BlackBerry Tablet OS, which supports true symmetric multiprocessing, while support is offered or Adobe's Flash Player and Mobile AIR.

Existing BlackBerry smartphone users are able to pair it with the PlayBook using a secure Bluetooth connection for a larger view of email, tasks, documents and other content that resides on (or is accessible through) their smartphone.

The software development kit is planned for release in the coming weeks, while the tablet is ‘expected to be available in retail outlets and other channels in the United States in early 2011 with rollouts in other international markets beginning in (calendar) Q2'.

So as iPad support becomes the fashionable development for security vendors at the moment, will this be the next solution to be a problem for IT managers, particularly as it offers support for the oft-patched Adobe software?

Dave Everitt, general manager EMEA at Absolute Software, said that this launch is proof that consumer devices have well and truly crossed the line into the workplace, but provides another major headache for corporate IT departments.

He said: “As much as the device gives employees more freedom and flexibility, spare a thought for the IT manager trying to keep track of all this kit. With a diverse range of devices, which often don't appear on the corporate network for traditional IT management tools to access, it's now even more important that innovative technology is embraced to comply with corporate governance.

“Being able to manage both Mac and PC products is a challenge in itself. If you then add to that the number of employees now using their own technology for both work and play, you've got a major asset management job on your hands. This is even before you assess the theft and security risks of so many employees carrying around devices containing potentially sensitive data.”

Back in July, research by Unisys found that a third of UK employees use a personal device for work purposes as IT management remains unaware. Everitt said that the addition of the PlayBook can only make things more challenging and demonstrates the need for a clear policy to provide visibility of the diverse range of devices both on and off the network.

“Without it, IT teams risk spending all their time fighting fires, rather than contributing to the business bottom line,” he said.

However Duncan Stewart, director of research at Deloitte's Canadian firm, said that the PlayBook is unlikely to compete with other tablets.

Stewart, who authored the firm's 2010 Tablet Prediction, said: “Although more than 50 per cent of RIM's sales are now consumer, this device seems like it is designed to appeal to RIM's older enterprise market. Deloitte's research suggests that millions of units will be shipped to retail, hospital, military and the banking market.

“People are talking about this as a work tool and the enterprise market could be 40 per cent of the tablet market in 2014. In some ways, the virtues of tablets (cheap, easy to use, virus-resistant, etc) are enormously appealing to businesses.”

It could be argued that the leading brands in the smartphone market are Apple for the iPhone and RIM for the BlackBerry and with both now in the tablet market, the opportunity for choice is now offered for both preferences.

As pointed out though, this will add a new device for IT managers to control, update and manage and that could be the most telling dilemma. As BlackBerry's are deemed to be the secure option in the smartphone arena, many could make their first step into tablet computing with the PlayBook and it may be worth making plans for a policy now.

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