RIM's destiny child, PlayBook, was launched with much aplomb in New York on April 14, and will be in stores from April 19.
The tablet carries RIM's hopes that the device will vault it over Android and Apple's iPad, to position it as a tablet of choice. However, RIM's answer to Apple's iPad and Motorola Xoom and hundreds of other tablets comes in bit late.
RIM first introduced its PlayBook in September 2010 and received good reviews for its interface, multi-tasking capabilities and its superior hardware specifications.
PlayBook sports a 7-inch display with a 1024x600 resolution. It is powered by a TI OMAP dual-core chip and runs on QNX which is a departure from its older BlackBerry OS. RIM bought QNX Software Systems, a maker of real-time operating systems, in April 2010. QNX created the Neutrino real-time operating system, software adapted from the automobile industry to power Bluetooth integration, and device connectivity. The tablet weighs 0.9 pounds and is 0.4-inches thick.
However, despite its praise-worthy features, PlayBook has not done enough to beat Apple's sequel to iPad, the iPad 2. The tablet has been chided for not offering native e-mail integration -- it can be optimized in conjunction with BlackBerry mobile using the BlackBerry Bridge feature which enables users to access BlackBerry phone content on PlayBook.
Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst with Forrester Research, said: The PlayBook is a race car that's missing a wheel; the PlayBook is a powerful device with solid hardware, lighter and more compact than the iPad. But by requiring a Bluetooth connection to a BlackBerry phone for basic applications like email, calendar, and IM, RIM has sacrificed consumer-friendliness for CIO peace-of-mind.
Apart from these missing features, RIM might have also lost its chance to dampen the iPad 2 mania on the following counts:
RIM committed a strategic error in delaying the launch of PlayBook after introducing it in Sept. 2010. The delay has cost RIM an early mover advantage. Since Apple launched its iPad in April 2010 it had a field run as there was no worthy competitor. Google was still working on a tablet-specific Android version, as other Android tablets like Samsung Galaxy Tab and Dell Streak had merely slapped the phone-specific OS Android 2.2 version on a tablet form with ensuing problems like low battery life. However Google delivered its Android 3.0 or Honeycomb in January 2010 with Motorola Xoom. This was followed by other OEMs like Samsung and LG joining the bandwagon and releasing their Android 3.0-based tablets.
If RIM had released PlayBook earlier it would have been a viable competition to Apple's iOS platform, as it had crafted a tablet-specific OS the QNX, while others were merely slapping existing OS designed for phones and desktops on tablet format.
Also RIM could have garnered more developers to code apps for its new OS if it had launched earlier. VisionMobile in a report stated that the developer's choice of a platform is largely guided by commercial dynamics rather than technical. According to a survey of developers done by VisionMobile, 73 percent of respondents chose large market penetration as a factor to choose an OS while 54 percent chose the future potential of an OS to deliver revenue and 44 percent based their choice on technical reasons (quick coding and prototyping). Thus, RIM would have been able to sell more tablets in the period prior to iPad 2 launch which would have given it some market penetration. It could have provided developers some incentives to write apps for PlayBook. Reuters reported that currently there are about 3,000 apps for QNX-based PlayBook while Apple iPad has about 65,000 third-party apps.
RIM released its flagship tablet under the moniker 'PlayBook' in an attempt to depart from its CIO image built by the success of its BlackBerry phones. One of the PlayBook's key differentiating factors is its BlackBerry Bridge which enables users to watch their BlackBerry content on PlayBook once the two devices are synched through Bluetooth. This brings all the functionality which corporate clients prefer -- like secured e-mail, calendar, and contact books on PlayBook. Thus, all these features are not natively available on PlayBook. It also lacks features to sync other e-mail accounts like Gmail or Hotmail as it lacks Microsoft Exchange-like option. All BlackBerry functions on the tablet come alive only with BlackBerry Bridge, and hence, users cannot synch their mails with any other device. PlayBook has been derided to be a BlackBerry-dependent device.
On the other side, it lacks some very basic features like video-chat capability despite sporting two-cameras. However, it does offer Flash video player.
The tablet has basic features of all gadgets but excels in none. It is not entirely a multimedia-focused device nor a completely baked corporate device as it lacks features to please either.
PlayBook comes late to the tablet party where likes of recently-launched Motorola Xoom seem like black slabs in comparison with the new ergonomically enhanced ultra-thin tablets like iPad 2 and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and 8.9. The iPad 2 is a mere 0.34-inch thick and Galaxy Tab 10.1 and 8.9 are 0.33-inch thick. The age of sleeker and lighter tablets is here. Compared to these modern designs, RIM PlayBook looks rather archaic with its 0.4-inch thickness. The 'cool' factor is missing from PlayBook to make it a sought-after device.
These limitations raise questions as to why RIM offered a half-evolved product. The plausible answer is that RIM seems to be still testing the waters. Whether corporates will accept tablets as favored devices or not is still left to the discretion of company CIOs, but for the public, the strategy that RIM needs to adopt is quite clear -- a sleek device which has multiple apps to run and at an affordable price. Thus, it seems RIM has to choose the segment it wants to reach out.