Can the PlayBook save RIM?

The BlackBerry maker finally gives some details about a new tablet it hopes can compete with the iPad.

By Kim Peterson Sep 28, 2010 2:59PM
RIM Playbook (© 2010 Research In Motion)The PlayBook. Sounds fun, right?

It's a handheld tablet computer -- hence the "book" part of the name -- but you get to play on it, maybe? But here's the confusing part: The PlayBook is being developed by Research in Motion (RIMM).

RIM makes the BlackBerry line, and is focused with laserlike precision on business productivity. It's calling the PlayBook "the first professional tablet," although the name says it's anything but.

PlayBook is a confusing name, and seems like an attempt by RIM to equally appease two audiences: The business types who have long supported the BlackBerry, and the consumers who have so far adored anything with a small "i" in front of it.

Can the PlayBook save RIM, which has been bleeding customer loyalty like a gunshot victim and losing business to Apple (AAPL) and Google's (GOOG) Android?

Let's delve into PlayBook's details, and look at how this device reflects RIM's late-to-the-game strategy:

The PlayBook should be out early next year, Cnet reports, but there is no specific release date. Price is also being kept secret, although one analyst predicts it will cost between $300 and $350. Post continues after video:
It has a 7-inch touch screen, Cnet reports, and a camera on the front and back. It has one GB of RAM and connects to the Internet through Wi-Fi.

Still unknown: When will it get a 3G or 4G connection? How much storage will it have? What data plan will it use?

Right from the start, however, the PlayBook has a huge advantage over other tablets, including Apple's dominant iPad. It will work seamlessly with the BlackBerry and the business servers the BlackBerry uses. "No new software, security, server, or data plan is needed to use it," writes Erica Ogg.

The PlayBook also has three features the iPad doesn't: Cameras, an HDMI video out and a willingness to embrace Flash-based video. Apple hates the Adobe (ADBE)-based Flash platform and doesn't want it used on the iPad.
But the PlayBook's biggest problem is that it's not the iPad. Apple has overtaken nearly the entire tablet market at this point, and is being tested or used by at least half of the Fortune 500 -- companies that have been BlackBerry loyalists in the past.

Apple got a huge head start, and now the PlayBook is one of half a dozen new tablets coming out -- all competing for the attention of businesses and consumers.

InformationWeek lists five ways the iPad kills the PlayBook. They include no 3G connectivity (at least at first) for the PlayBook, very few apps designed specifically for it, an unproven operating system from QNX, no GPS and not enough storage.

But PCWorld loves the PlayBook, praising the device's ability to support even Microsoft's WMA audio along with Adobe Flash. The PlayBook should be compatible with just about any Web site or online video content, PCWorld says.

"Assuming that the PlayBook is reasonably priced, it looks as if RIM has raised the bar for tablets, and put itself in a tremendous position to capitalize on its business credibility and the entrenched BlackBerry culture to capture a good share of the tablet market," writes Tony Bradley.

Here's RIM's problem. The PlayBook won't be the best tablet, but it will be good enough. Good enough to appease some businesses and corporate users.

But there's nothing about the PlayBook that will stop the BlackBerry users abandoning ship for the iPhone and Android. The ones who want to go will go. The PlayBook will mainly placate those who stick around.

RIM needs to do more to stop the losses. And the apps are where the battle will now be fought, now that the hardware is in place. Unfortunately, starting off with an unknown operating system puts the PlayBook at square one.

So the PlayBook may be a short-term win, but it does very little to improve RIM's long-term challenges of customer loyalty, a sufficient apps catalog and consumer appeal outside the business arena.

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