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Summary:

Research In Motion is reportedly prepping an LTE PlayBook tablet for at least one Canadian network but it’s unlikely to boost tablet sales. Instead, the company should be focused on getting its new OS on phones sooner or improving the tablet in other ways.

BlackBerry PlayBook 4G

Research In Motion is set to release an LTE version of its BlackBerry PlayBook for $550 without contract, MobileSyrup reported on Tuesday. The site claims to have internal RIM documentation suggesting that the device will first appear on Bell’s network in Canada and will fallback to the operator’s HSPA+ network where LTE coverage is not available.

How much will the addition of cellular connectivity help RIM’s floundering tablet sales? Not likely very much, if any at all.There’s a couple of problems with this product update, if indeed, the reports are accurate. As has been the case with RIM of late, the main one is timing, although I question the company’s priorities as well. Where is BBM for the PlayBook without using the Bridge software and perhaps more importantly, why not focus instead on getting the new OS on phones sooner?

For what was once a leading phone maker to take this long to integrate mobile broadband capability into a mobile device speaks volumes about the problems at RIM. And when RIM took the first steps 18 months ago to add cellular data connectivity to the PlayBook, it initially chose to do so for Sprint’s WiMAX network; another poor choice as the carrier is moving on to LTE. Sprint eventually cancelled that PlayBook model.

Some few will appreciate the addition of LTE in a PlayBook, but I doubt RIM will see a significant sales boost because of it. One only has to look at the last two years of research to see that RIM’s resources would be better devoted to improving the device’s software and app selection; not the cellular radio integration. Earlier this year, industry analyst Chetan Sharma found that 90 percent of all tablets sales in the U.S. last year were Wi-Fi only models. Essentially, RIM is — at best — likely targeting a small percent of the tablet market, made even smaller by those who want a PlayBook in the first place.

Perhaps a simple question sums up the problem with RIM’s reported approach. How many people do you know that wanted a PlayBook but passed on it solely because it didn’t have a cellular radio?

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  1. This is a confusing article. You start by saying that adding LTE to the PlayBook isn’t going to do anything for the tablet or for RIM. But then you criticize the company for being late to the mobile data game. Then you suggest the company should be focussed on BB10 instead of making changes to the PlayBook. I’m really tired of bloggers attacking *EVERYTHING THAT RIM DOES* Why not make some balanced observations instead? Why not mention that some analysts think LTE on tablets is a waste of money: http://www.bgr.com/2012/07/23/lte-tablets-market-share-decline/ you might increase your credibility. Or why not point out that RIM’s relationship with telcos means that the PlayBook will receive a much bigger push at retail if it comes equipped with cellular data. Some folks might just buy one if it was subsidized with a contract.

    1. Simon, that’s good feedback; thanks. I see your point on the confusion. To me: RIM’s entire strategy has been confusing — and plagued by bad timing. LTE might have made much more sense a year ago as that’s when Verizon quickly built out the infrastructure. But instead, RIM chose WiMAX. That’s just one example. At this point, I strongly believe RIM should simply abandon the PlayBook efforts and instead refocus the tablet resources on getting BB10 to phone sooner. It’s a market that RIM still holds some meaningful share. But again, the company doesn’t appear to be doing that.

      I understand your statement about seeing RIM being attacked for everything it does. Unfortunately, the company hasn’t proven any such articles wrong yet. And believe me, that saddens me.

      1. The truth is a LOT of companies should focus their efforts elsewhere, because if you arent Apple at the high end or Amazon at the low end you are really just wasting your time. Let the economy crumble a little and watch the tablet market dry up like a puddle in the desert.

      2. I take your point about timing and resource allocation. RIM has made some questionable moves in the past 18 months to be sure. But (and I’m no hi-tech product manager) I have to assume that RIM sees no benefit in yanking resources from the PlayBook team to put them on the BB10 project. Pretty sure Thorsten said something to the effect that the delay was not due to a lack of resources, but more around the company’s determination to release a product that met expectations. Only time will tell if the delay was worth it. I will say that I think the PlayBook might just be the most underrated device ever launched. While the tech-pundit community has trashed it again and again, real consumers who buy them seem genuinely pleased with their purchase. Anecdotally I’ve yet to hear of someone regretting their PB purchase with the exception of those who bought before the price dropped. They’re pissed. Understandably.

      3. @ricdesan – absolutely correct. To those who are about to jump in and say that the Nexus 7 is the new bottom – just wait. The current Kindle Fire will be a $99 tablet by Christmas. Just watch.

  2. Perhaps this version is just a by product of their automotive integration of QNX. Proving that cellular radios play nice with QNX can reinforce a push into the auto industry,no?

  3. I concur with Simon – I have a Playbook and have enjoyed using it. It is fast, loaded with apps that I want and I am still learning new and better ways to utilize it.

  4. It is the first product of QNX + mobile data and it does make sense to release it as a platform rather than waiting for BB10.

  5. Yes indeed I agree with Simon. The PlayBook is a great tablet, and I don’t regret having one!

  6. I agree, many were saying that it was a mistake not to have LTE. The hardware engineers and workers working on LTE would not help with BB10 software development anyways. It makes sense that they get an LTE version out though as it helps fill the GAP or VOID between the last real update to their hardware or phones and to BB10. Get some good positive attention; let’s face it. Last I heard the Playbook 4G wasn’t suppose to be out till October-November and now we are hearing it may be out by the end of this week. For once they might be ahead of schedule?

  7. they missed the original 2011 schedules for a slew of 3G/4G playbooks…they’re way behind they’re not ahead of any schedule…they missed coz the wifi playbook didn’t sell and they couldn’t justify pouring the resources into getting it out quicker i guess is a likely reason.

    BB screwed up 2x in a row with delays on the BB side. First they didn’t release a full portfolio of os6 products like they did with os 5. Notable absence of a full touch screen os 6 device on CDMA & on GSM. Maybe they could’ve also rolled out a 9900 on os 6 as well. Sadly they didn’t make their os 7 targets. Then when they missed the os 7 targets they didn’t plan for a back up of the delays for os10. Screwing up on the playbook didn’t kill them…screwing up 2x in a row on the BB is what killed them. Heins prolly should’ve planned a refresh of os 7. Expect the best but plan for the worse?

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