Apple, RIM rivalry heating up over apps, business

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Comments by Research in Motion's co-CEO disparaging Apple's app strategy at this week's Web 2.0 Summit reflect a growing rivalry between Apple and RIM, while reports of early commitments to the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet from corporations hint at the fierce competition to come over the corporate tablet market.

Though tension between Apple and RIM has been growing for some time, RIM took it to the next level earlier this week when it released a hands-on video comparing the upcoming BlackBerry PlayBook tablet with Apple's iPad. In the video, the PlayBook is shown to render websites faster, run Flash, and perform better on Web standards tests. The PlayBook is set to debut in early 2011, priced at "under" $500 to compete with the iPad.

RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie then proceeded to add fuel to the fire by laying into Apple during this week's Web 2.0 conference. When asked what he would say if Apple CEO Steve Jobs were on stage, he replied with, "You finally showed up." Critical of the abundance of iOS apps that duplicate Web content, Balsillie claimed that "you don't need an app for the Web." That claim, however, is misleading, since, presumably, the PlayBook will itself require a Web browser application to take advantage of 'the web without limits' as advertised.

Balsillie and Jobs traded words last month after Jobs announced that the iPhone had outsold all BlackBerry phones in the September quarter. "I don't see them catching up with us in the foreseeable future," said Jobs during the company's earnings call.

Jobs also expressed skepticism over the smaller 7-inch form factor of competing tablets, which includes the BlackBerry PlayBook. "We think the 7-inch tablets will be dead on arrival, and manufacturers will realize they're too small and abandon them next year. They'll then increase the size, abandoning the customers and developers who bought into the smaller format," he predicted.

Balsillie quickly fired back, asserting that Jobs' comments were irrelevant to people "who live outside of Apple's distortion field." "We think many customers are getting tired of being told what to think by Apple," wrote Balsillie on the official BlackBerry blog.

As Apple continues to make inroads into the enterprise market, the threat it poses to BlackBerry increases. Hoping to convince some of the business tablet users who went with the iPad and iPhone to switch back to the BlackBerry platform, RIM is pushing the PlayBook as a business device.

Bloomberg reports that RIM has achieved some early success with attracting corporate customers to the PlayBook. The Sun Life Financial insurance group has agreed to purchase as many as 1,000 PlayBook tablets, while several other companies have also committed to testing or purchasing the device. “The encryption was really the clincher in opting for the PlayBook,” said Sun Life senior vice president Tom Reid.

Meanwhile, Apple will be ramping up its efforts to market the iPad to businesses."We haven't pushed [the iPad] real hard in business, and it's being grabbed out of our hands," Jobs said in October. According to Apple, over 65 percent of the Fortune 100 are already deploying or trying the iPad.

"We've got a tiger by the tail here, and this is a new model of computing which we've already got tens of millions of people trained on with the iPhone, and that lends itself to lots of different aspects of life, both personal and business," he said.