Video Blackberry Messenger on a Tablet May Be RIM's Answer to the iPad

Last Updated Jul 13, 2010 10:30 AM EDT

RIM (RIMM) is launching a Blackberry tablet device -- and it may be the first device to truly rival Apple's (AAPL) iPad.

The Blackberry tablet may not be the first out of the gate, but it has the benefit of one of the most promising gambits. In the last several weeks, we've heard whispers of Google (GOOG) Android tablets from OEMs like LG, as well as an HP (HPQ) tablet based on the recently-acquired Palm webOS. But all of those devices are somewhat larger -- as big as 10.1 inches -- and meant to be used as independent devices.

But according to BetaNews, RIM is taking a different tack than its competitors: it's making a 7-inch, 1GHz touchscreen device a companion to the handheld Blackberry. The tablet device, which will run Blackberry 6, an updated and touch-centric version of the Blackberry OS, will only sport WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, and will tether to Blackberry handhelds for on-the-go Web. Said the WSJ last month:

RIM is also experimenting with a tablet device to serve as a larger-screen companion to its BlackBerry phone, say people familiar with RIM's plans. That device, which is in an early stage of development, will connect to cellular networks via a BlackBerry phone, these people say. It could come out as soon as the end of the year, these people say.
BetaNews is also reporting that the device will run Adobe's (ADBE) Flash video software and -- more importantly -- include a hardware-based Flash accelerator, or a special chip that makes Flash run more efficiently. (One of Steve Jobs' big gripes about Flash is that it sucks battery life because it places all its load on the main processor.) It will also have two cameras, one forward-facing for video conferencing.

All this in combination equals one thing: a serious BBM'ing machine.

For the uninitiated, BBM (or Blackberry Messenger) could be called the "crack" in "Crackberry": it's a Blackberry-only instant messaging service that is beloved by its users and responsible for much of Blackberry's consumer-market devotion. (Realizing this, RIM has begun running advertisements in several large cities touting BBM as Blackberry's salient feature.)

By adding hardware-accelerated Flash support and a forward-facing camera, RIM is positioning its tablet as a killer video-based BBM device. If Apple is to be believed -- witness the new iPhone's FaceTime app -- then video conferencing might finally be ready to come of age. If it does, Blackberry will be at the fore with this device.

This has real implications for enterprise users, who currently rely on stationary video-conference solutions to conduct remote meetings. A Blackberry Messenger with video could serve double-duty, appealing to BBM-happy consumers and on-the-go business customers who might otherwise have to rely on more elaborate solutions HP's Skyroom or Cisco's (CSCO) Telepresence, even when they're overkill.

The importance of Flash hardware acceleration can't be overstated, as admittedly nerdy as it is. Battery life on any personal device is a make-or-break feature, and Flash has historically been a detriment. But with acceleration, Blackberry app developers (they do exist, apparently) have the freedom to build Flash into their apps at will, making for some seriously powerful applications. Look no further than Flash-based software like Prezi, a terrific presentation Web app, or Adobe's Web version of Photoshop for evidence of what Flash can do in a Web app.

Provided that RIM doesn't defeat itself with a greedy price-point, the Blackberry tablet could more deeply entrench its already-committed user base, giving Apple fanboys some competition in their devotion. Android tablets need not apply.