RIM Announces Playbook Tablet, Still Playing Defense

RIM has finally announced that its new tablet will go on sale in early 2011.  More importantly, the 7″ ‘PlayBook’ (formerly known as the ‘Blackpad’) will support Adobe Flash, finally giving me the hope that we’ll find out if Apple really keeps flash off of its devices for battery issues, or if Joaoaerbs just wants to keep web applets out of his iTunes/GameCenter ecosystem.

The initial version will have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections but will only be able to connect to cellular networks through a BlackBerry smartphone. RIM said it intends to offer 3G and 4G ready tablets “in the future.”

The PlayBook will run on an all-new operating system built by QNX Software Systems, which makes software used to run everything from cars to nuclear reactors. RIM bought QNX earlier this year, and has been working to adapt the software for mobile phones.

The move means RIM will have to juggle two distinct operating systems. The company announced its BlackBerry 6 operating system for smartphones in April, and rolled out the first handset running on it, the BlackBerry Torch, last month.

WSJ

Connectivity through your existing Blackberry phone sounds like a great idea from a data-consumer’s point of view, but they’re certainly not going to gain market share on Apple with a strategy that only appeals to current Blackberry users.  It should also be noted that, like most Blackberry products, the PlayBook seems to be geared specifically to enterprise.  They’re likely not trying pry loose Apple’s stranglehold over the consumer market just yet.  So despite demonstrations of video, photo, and e-reader uses, as well as its ‘play’ful name, I wouldn’t expect users to be loading it with games any time soon.

Although, if they so wish, and if the browser is strong enough, Blackberry fans could get their fill of gaming through the web since, again, the PlayBook will support flash.  The only difference is they’ll be getting that content for free, whereas Apple’s stonewalling of Adobe’s popular technology has afforded them the unique ability to charge up to $9.99 for games that we would have otherwise played free on the web.

The WSJ article also made no mention of the price point.  It’s certainly a tough question, and it’s entirely possible that RIM hasn’t decided where to position the device in terms of pricing.  To make an Apple comparison again, the iPad can easily be sold at a loss because of the implied revenue they expect to make by selling apps, much like Microsoft has done with their Xbox.  The money is in the software (games or otherwise).  But without a robust developer base, you can’t count on app sales as a revenue stream to keep the device afloat.  In that sense, and with an entirely new OS, the Blackberry faces the same uphill battle that Sony did when they launched the PS3.  The console is certainly a very capable device (as I’m sure the PlayBook will be), but it struggled to gain traction for quite a while because developers shied away from its largely unknown architecture.

Ray Sharma, founder of XMG Studios, a closely held Toronto firm that develops games for the iPhone and Android platforms, was encouraged by RIM’s announcements Monday, but said it’s too soon to say whether his firm will begin developing games for the BlackBerry platform or for the PlayBook.

Mr. Sharma said the QNX operating system, while highly touted, is an unknown. By contrast, the Android system is on version 2.2, while the Apple OS is in its fourth iteration, he said. Mr. Sharma is also monitoring the progress of Microsoft Corp.’s new Windows mobile operating system, which will integrate with the company’s X-Box videogame system, making it particularly attractive for game developers, he said.

WSJ

RIM will try to compete for developers’ attention by waiving developer fees and attempting to streamline the app-creation process with a new development platform, but they are taking a significant risk with PlayBook, because of the enormous first-mover advantage enjoyed in this kind of product.  The quantity and quality of software is what will sell the hardware, and hardware sales attract developers in-turn.  It’s a chicken-egg situation that either results in a snowball-cum-avalanche or complete gridlock.  RIM is attempting to move the PlayBook by adding more features than Apple’s iPad, but they are features that do not offer the company additional revenue streams.  Connectivity through your Blackberry phone’s existing data connection means no revenue through sales of additional data plans.  And as I’ve already said, Flash support means that apps can run on the web instead of being sold in RIM’s version of the App Store.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the PlayBook was actually more expensive than the iPad, offering more features and more free content once you pay the upfront cost, and I don’t see that strategy dethroning El Jobso.  So where’s their edge (and you can’t feed me the BBM mantra anymore!)?

The stock market doesn’t appear to see one, as RIMM shares are trading down about 3% today while the broader market hovers around neutral to slightly positive.

[Wall Street Journal]

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Apple to Unveil New Device that Prints Money

There’s naturally been a lot of speculation surrounding Apple’s “Music-centric” event that is set to kick off today.  Many suspect that the iPod Touch will be upgraded to include iPhone 4’s dual cameras for Facetime chatting over WiFi, and the WSJ has reported an agreement with ABC (Jobs is the largest shareholder of DIS) and FOX to offer $0.99 rentals of their popular TV shows.  Still others are hoping El Jobso will find the setting right, with Hulu+ introduced last month and Google’s TV platform built on Froyo, to officially unveil a set-top box for his self-described “hobby” AppleTV.

The stage is set.  The black turtle-necks are dry cleaned, and hopefully everyone is off the WiFi. The event will be streamed live to Apple devices starting at 1 PM EST – for those looking to follow along on a PC, there’s a little workaround here, or of course gizmodo.com has their liveblog as always.

AAPL is trading around 250 on a very strong market so far.

Yikes: Blackberry Torch Selling for $99 on Amazon

Launch sales of the Blackberry Torch were “underwhelming” to say the least, and just a week after it’s launch, the new Berry appears to be going for 50% off the already-reduced (bundled with AT&T contract) price on Amazon.com.

RIM needed a BlackBerry miracle. Its market and value share are being slowly eaten up by the iPhone and Android. The BlackBerry Torch should have been that miracle, but alas it has failed to make waves and initial sales seem to indicate slow-but-maybe-not-steady sales.

According to analysts at Goldman Sachs, who called the sales “underwhelming,” the Torch certainly didn’t set any sales records on fire: The firm noted that nearly all of the stores they called did not sell out of the device. Also the checks showed that the vast majority of Torch sales were driven by upgrades from existing BlackBerry subscribers.

IntoMobile

NOT GOOD.  The fact of the matter is if RIM wanted to step onto Apple’s turf, they should have followed their overblown competitor’s playbook a little closer.  Specifically by releasing the new Blackberry OS 6 to developers ahead of launch.  That way, users find plenty of applications to explore right out of the box.  This is what Apple does with its developers every time they release an iOS update, and it seems to be working pretty well.  Consumers follow the developers because they provide the security that every good application will be made available.  We know that if there’s something the OS doesn’t do natively, and enough people notice it/talk about it, some developer will come along and fill that gap; but they have to be there in the first place! At some point, it becomes a chicken-egg situation, with developers in turn paying attention only to the platforms that have captured the most users, which is why it’s going to be extremely difficult to uproot Apple in this space.

Amazon

Apple Patches PDF Exploit

Apple went ahead and patched the exploit that made one-click jailbreaking with JailbreakMe possible, since the security hole leaves users susceptible to much greater evils than the ability to power-use their $500 gadgets.

Apple is hustling to issue a patch for a milestone security flaw that makes it possible to remotely hack —or jailbreak — iOS, the operating system for iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch.

Security experts expect the pattern that has come to dominate the PC world to begin to permeate smartphones. Bad guys continually flush out new security flaws in PCs, then tap into them to launch malicious attacks. Good guys, meanwhile, scramble to patch and block.

USA Today

They forgot to say, “Dark knights find holes in the system and use them to give you control over your device.”  Luckily, the patch won’t stop the iPhone dev-team from continuing to do that.

@MuscleNerd: hah 🙂 redsn0w from June http://is.gd/eduZD can still JB 4.0.2 for iPhone3G and ipt2G(non-MC) ONLY (point it at 4.0 IPSW)

Anyway, it’s probably for the best, since an exploit that allows remote control of your phone could make some pretty sensitive information vulnerable.  Probably best to update and then use redsn0w to re-jailbreak. ultrasn0w can now also carrier-unlock iPhone 4, making it usable on other GSM networks besides AT&T.  Hit the dev-team blog for info/downloads.

Follow MuscleNerd and/or iPhone Dev-Team on Twitter to stay up to date with the cat-and-mouse game.

Gizmodo’s Top 16 Reasons to Jailbreak Your Apple Device, NOW

Now that the iPhone Dev Team has made jailbreaking your iPhones, Pads, and Pods as painless as visiting http://jailbreakme.com/ on your device’s Safari, there’s really no excuse for living and dying by the heavy hand of Apple’s App Approval Process.  Since Jobs doesn’t allow apps to modify iOS at all, tweaks like multitasking, and visual customizations that just made their way into iOS4 this summer have been executed quite well by underground developers on the JB scene for years now.  And there are plenty that Apple still didn’t roll out for iOS4, like the ability to display an info (missed calls, new emails) on the lockscreen).

Gizmodo

For my money though, the most important addition that jailbreaking will get you is biteSMS, which allows you to reply to or send new text messages on top of whatever you’re currently doing, without interruptining anything.  If I hadn’t been using it for 2 years now, I don’t think I’d still have my iPhone.  Having to quit (or even minimize) the web page or e-mail you’re reading just to respond to a text (because if you don’t now, you’ll never remember to) is a profound absurdity for a corporate culture who prides themselves on the supposed fluidity and intuitiveness of their UIs.  Nothing really grinds my gears more than a design that fails to take the final logical step.  iOS pops an alert up to show you the incoming text.  So why in god’s name would you not pop the virtual keyboard on there too and let us take care of this message before it turns into a barrage of “hello??!” “r u there?” “why aren’t u answering?” I’M TRYING TO LOAD A YOUTUBE VIDEO, MOM. CHILLAX.

Apple to Hold Press Conference Addressing Antenna at 1:00pm EST

Seen here demonstrating to all you idiots how to properly hold a phone (it’s like you have to tell fish water is wet…), Apple honcho Stevie J says he still does not plan on a recall of iPhone 4.  $AAPL shares saw a spike late in yesterday’s trading day (like everything else) but has since broken under $250 yet again.  My guess is this level will hold likely again as well, as Apple is expected to at least alleviate some uncertainty and finally address this issue.  Free bumpers would probably cost them only pennies/share and that seems like the most likely scenario.

Gizmodo’s Brian Barrett notes that Apple’s antenna engineers were aware of the issue, but apparently lost a battle with the team in charge of the design aesthetic of the new phone. Jesus Diaz points out that a “silent recall” might already be going on, as a user who exchanged his phone within the warranty period was unable to reproduce the problems with the new unit.

Basically what I’m telling you is if you want total coverage of this ongoing issue, head over to Gizmodo, who will also be covering the press conference live starting at 1:00pm EST.

UPDATE: Free bumpers until September 30th. It it’s implied then, that by that date, they’ll have the antenna problem fixed in new stock.

250/share holds, $AAPL gets a short term pop on the announcement.  Even turns positive despite Nasdaq being -50.

AAPL Shares Sliding on Speculation of Recall

AAPL is now down nearly 3% on a day when the DOW is up over 1%…not something you have seen lately. In fact, it seems like over the last month, the exact opposite has been true quite a few times.  Seems like the market is baking in some speculation that Jobs’s antenna problems could lead to a wide-scale recall of iPhone 4 hot off the heels of Consumer Reports’ big thumbs down.

I don’t see this ending any other way but giving out free bumpers, mostly because iPhone users are clamoring for it, essentially giving El Jobso a cheap escape hatch from this debacle.  Apple obviously doesn’t want to have to deal with a recall, but in an ironic twist of fanboy-consumerism neither do the users.  Maybe it’s because the phone is so ridiculously fragile to begin with (uhh, it’s made of glass) that 99% of users plan to purchase some kind of case anyway, which has been reported to mitigate the issue.  So they want free bumpers.  Problem solved, on the cheap.

Or they could go the MSFT direction and just scrap the whole product line. LOW BLOW!