Analysts Applaud RIM Initiatives, But Will Developers Come?

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. (RIMM) said the right things and seemingly made the right moves at its developer conference in San Francisco, offering a sneak peak at its much-anticipated tablet computer, the PlayBook, as well as unveiling numerous initiatives aimed at leveling the playing field with Apple Inc.’s (AAPL) iPhone and smartphones that run on Google Inc.’s (GOOG) Android-operating platform.

Among the bevy of announcements Monday were a long-awaited mobile-advertising service for the BlackBerry-application platform, a free analytics platform for developers, a new Web-based application-development platform, the decision to share some code with the open-source development community, waiving of developer fees, and of course, its tablet.

The PlayBook, which won’t be available commercially until early 2011, will support Adobe Systems Inc.’s (ADBE) Flash software, feature two high-definition cameras, include a USB port, a 1 GHz dual-core processor and an operating system powered by recently acquired QNX Systems Software.

The question is, will it all make a difference, or has RIM waited too long to counterattack and try to regain the cachet ceded to the iPhone and Android platforms?

IDC’s Al Hilwa said RIM addressed many of the criticisms sullying its image. For instance, it showed it does have a viable tablet strategy that will focus, initially at least, on the corporate market, he said. It showed it does have a mobile-ad platform. It showed it is taking concrete steps to improve its applications platform and remain relevant in the consumer market, he said.

Carmi Levy, an independent-technology analyst, noted the PlayBook includes several features that the iPhone lacks. For instance, the PlayBook offers HDMI and USB connectivity, is more portable and weighs less than the iPhone, supports Adobe’s Flash and has high-definition cameras, he said. "RIM has gone for the jugular," he said.

Still, it remains to be seen how many developers the PlayBook attracts. Ray Sharma, founder of XMG Studios, a closely held Toronto firm that develops games for the iPhone and Android platforms, said he was encouraged by RIM’s announcements. However, he said it’s too soon to know if his firm will begin developing games for the BlackBerry platform in light of Monday’s announcements, or the PlayBook for that matter. He said the QNX operating system, while highly touted, is an unknown whereas the Android system is on version 2.2 and the Apple OS is in its fourth iteration. "It’s not like Apple is doing all that bad," he said.

As well, Sharma said he is also monitoring the progress of Microsoft Corp.’s (MSFT) Windows Mobile 7 operating system, noting that the software-developer kit for that OS has already garnered 300,000 downloads. Windows 7 will also integrate with X-Box, making it particularly attractive for game developers, he said.

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