This is a guest post from by Joe Pawlikowski from BBGeeks.
Can you convince someone to pay full price for a year-old tablet? It doesn’t sound like an appetizing proposition, yet it’s what RIM might have to do come February. As Robb noted earlier, the PlayBook will not get native email, contacts, calendars, or BBM until February. That’s not only disappointing because it’s four months from now, but because RIM was supposed to unleash the update right around now. It’s left me weeping into my PlayBook.
This leaves RIM in quite a pickle. Had they released PlayBook OS 2.0 this month, or even early next month, they could have made a holiday push and perhaps beat some sales estimates. Tablets are going to fly off shelves in the next two months, and a fully functional PlayBook compares well to other tablets on the market. But a PlayBook that requires you to tether a BlackBerry smartphone to get basic functions? While I love my Verizon BlackBerry Bold tethered to my PlayBook, that’s going to be a tough sell to the general market.
While customers snap up tablets such as the Kindle Fire and the Samsung Galaxy Tab, RIM has to continue focusing on the same market it’s had for the past six months: BlackBerry users. There are certainly some BlackBerry customers who have held off and will buy a PlayBook this holiday season. But that’s a small segment of a limited market. Lost are other smartphone users who might have found the PlayBook useful. I feel strongly that many would have, because I feel that the PlayBook is at least as good as any Android tablet on the market. Now we won’t get to see how they compare.
RIM’s real problem, though, is how to handle marketing once they do release PlayBook OS 2.0. At that point the PlayBook will be be 10 months old. Chances are we’ll have heard strong rumors of an iPad 3. A number of manufacturers will have release, and will have plans for, powerful Android tablets. Again, the PlayBook holds up to the current tablets, but plenty changes in just a few months. RIM will have to market its tablet against even better ones. That could prove a difficult endeavor.
Furthermore, the issues with the PlayBook could make it more difficult for RIM to produce a successful follow-up device. There were rumors of a 10-inch tablet in the future, but RIM reportedly cancelled those plans in order to focus on BBX smartphones. Eventually, though, a follow-up tablet will have to enter their plans. We’ve seen that they’re capable of putting together a fine piece of hardware, but the hardware doesn’t sell the tablet. They’ll have to convince a skeptical market that this time they have it right. Given the alternatives, it won’t be an easy proposition.
The whole PlayBook escapade makes me think back to early 2011, when the PlayBook was still a concept. Sure, Mike Lazaridis had taken it on a mini tour, but there were few aspects of the tablet that were finalized. In fact, in late January we heard the mother of all rumors: the PlayBook could have acted as an Android tablet. It wouldn’t have been a pure Android tablet, as it would still have run QNX. But they would have worked with Google to provide a “certified” Android app that would have included the full Market, including the Gmail app. That might have been the most exciting PlayBook rumor we ever heard.
I can’t help but think that RIM made a mistake in not taking this path. Of course, it’s easy to say that now, in hindsight, given how the PlayBook has developed. But journey back to that time, in January 2011. If RIM knew that it wouldn’t launch the PlayBook with native email, contacts, and calendars, and they didn’t know they’d get that update out soon — and really, a summer update was the best case scenario at the time — wouldn’t they have been better off biting the bullet and just riding the Android wave for their first tablet?
The benefits could have been astounding. They would have put their QNX operating system on display, but would have backed it with thousands of apps from the Android Market. They would have gotten the native Gmail client, which can filter in other webmail addresses. Contacts and calendars would have been there from Google, and those do sync with your BlackBerry device. But most importantly, they would have offered a fully-functional tablet at launch. With just a little buzz, they could have built some momentum and then rolled that into the next PlayBook release, the one that would feature BBX in all its glory.
Of course, this is a fruitless exercise now. RIM chose their path, and they’re stuck with the decision. Things are not looking too bright for the PlayBook currently. They did a phenomenal job with the hardware and the operating system, but none of the other pieces have yet fallen into place. Maybe they will come February, but by that point it might be too late. It’s sad, mostly. I really liked my PlayBook, and was really looking forward to these updates.