IN THE NEWS ~ RIM Playbook faces uphill battle on Hill

Published | Publié: 2011-10-17
Received | Reçu: 2011-12-20 10:55 AM
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BUSINESS, Page: C7

RIM Playbook faces uphill battle on Hill

Most MPs choose, use Apple's iPad

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

   OTTAWA - Gaining ground in the Apple-dominated tablet computer market has been akin to pushing a rock up a mountain for Research in Motion.

   And there's a hill they're at risk of dying on: Parliament Hill.

   Political Ottawa remains addicted to RIM's signature BlackBerry smartphone, but when it comes to which tablet computers to adopt, Apple's iPad is the favoured son.

   Conservative MP Peter Braid is one of the few, if not the only, MP who uses RIM's Playbook instead.

   It's an obvious choice, as Braid represents Waterloo, Ont., where RIM is based.

   When BlackBerry service went down around the world last week, it wasn't just the company who felt the slap. Local residents, as do many Canadians, take personal pride in the fact the device that even the U.S. president couldn't live without comes from Canada.

   Even in the wake of the service meltdown, Braid said, people still remain confident in the company.

   And when it comes to the tablet, he's hoping to try to convert over more fellow parliamentarians.

   "I talk to some people about it from time to time," he said. "People understand why I feel as strongly as I do about promoting RIM."

   In choosing the iPad over the Playbook, MPs are reflecting a larger trend.

   After its launch last spring, sales of the Playbook came in far below expectations, which analysts attribute to the fact RIM came late to the table market with a smaller device with limited online capability and poor physical design.

   The lacklustre debut came amid lower profits overall for the company, layoffs and a share price that hovers around $20 when it was once almost $150.

   Treasury Board President Tony Clement, an avid tech buff, is among those not writing off RIM, but acknowledges they have a fight on their hands.

   "The fact of the matter is they are going to be in a world where many people are going to have to make one choice or the other, or there is going to be a smaller subset that are going to be comfortable in both worlds," said Clement, who uses both Apple and RIM products.

   In the early days of RIM, the federal government contributed more than $50 million in loans and grants between 1994 and 2000 to help get their handheld wireless device business off the ground, according to research at Concordia University.

   Unlike the auto industry, which has received government money in tough times, there's no more federal cash likely to flow to RIM, and they're not asking for any.

   Nor does even Braid see the need for MPs to be required to use their products.

   "I don't know if we need a rule necessarily," he said. "I think it should be the first choice that people consider."

   Unlike the BlackBerry, which is standard issue for MPs and staffers, there's no government-wide standard yet on tablet computers. If MPs choose to get one, the make is up to them.

   Even Gary Goodyear, the federal minister of science and technology, recently decided to buy the Apple product instead of the Playbook.

   NDP industry critic Peter Julian introduced a private member's bill in the last session of Parliament that would have required the federal government give preference to Canadian goods.

   He said there are symbolic things the government could be doing to show support for RIM.

   "But overall, it's providing that research and development . . . for our high-tech achievements that could make a real difference," Julian said. "The government has failed miserably."

   Goodyear acknowledges that his and past governments have not always received value from the billions invested in research and development.

   For every success story like RIM, there are hundreds of widgets that gather dust in lab closets.

   But now's the time to dust off those ideas, he said. Canada is doing relatively well even in the current economic climate and businesses need to seize the moment.

   "Compare us to the United States whose economy is significantly worse than ours," he said.

   "They are still beating us on innovation and productivity. So this is an opportunity for us to say look, that is just an excuse that can be managed and this is the opportunity to do it."

   Today, a panel of experts will release a report reviewing the current research-and-development investment programs run by government, along with suggestions on what could be done differently.

   The panel does not have a mandate to put research money on the chopping block or recommend more be spent.

   But the federal government is undergoing a massive spending review to shave $4 billion a year to help bring down the deficit. A spokesman for the minister would not say whether research funds could be cut as a result. ILLUS: Treasury Board President Tony Clement, a tech buff, uses both Apple and RIM products. (Sean Kilpatrick / CP)