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Will Pricing, Flash Sell RIM’s PlayBook?

Research In Motion’s (s rimm) PlayBook, a 7-inch tablet with Wi-Fi connectivity, arrives on April 19 and can be pre-ordered today through Best Buy (s bby) in the U.S. and Canada. Three models will be available and vary based on internal storage capacities of 16, 32 and 64 GB. RIM has set the price of each to be the same as Apple’s (s aapl) iPad 2: $499, $599 and $699, respectively. In addition to sales through Best Buy, and Future Shop in Canada, RIM has lined up more than two dozen retailers that will carry the tablets.

The cost of RIM’s new tablet falls in the generally expected target range. When I spoke to RIM representatives earlier this year, talk of a $500 price came up, as well as comments like “it will be competitively priced.” RIM has delivered on that front, although fans of the iPad will likely point out that the PlayBook offers a much smaller, 7-inch display with a lower 1024×600 resolution than Apple’s tablet. As a result, some may balk at a $499 tablet. But tablets can’t be judged by specifications alone; the user experience, application ecosystem and even the device’s portability based on screen size are all other factors to consider.

In terms of the user experience, my limited hands-on time with an early version of RIM’s tablet shows an intuitive interface that’s effective to use. The device supports on-screen multitasking, so a video can be playing in one small window while another app is open and viewable. But end users aren’t likely to use multiple apps at the same time on the small screen, so this may not be that much of a competitive advantage.

RIM expects the Playbook’s ability to run Adobe Flash Player 10.1 (s adbe) will make the device stand apart from the iPad, but it’s too early to tell, as Motorola’s Xoom just gained the feature last week through a beta of Flash 10.2. However, the Flash implementation I saw on the Playbook in January ran buttery smooth. That surprised me until I found out why: QNX, the company RIM purchased last year, has spent years integrating Adobe Flash into embedded automobile systems. After buying QNX, RIM used the company’s operating system for its PlayBook and will also use it in future BlackBerry handsets.

By this time next month, we’ll have a good feel for the remaining unknowns that could make or break the PlayBook. How will battery life be for the device with its dual-core processor, and will Flash cause the battery to drain too fast? Will there be enough compelling applications to entice consumers away from competing tablets? And because this is also an enterprise device, will companies decide to adopt the Playbook in the office at a time when 66 percent of Fortune 100 companies have either adopted or tested the iPad? Lastly, will the requirement that a BlackBerry handset use the native email app on PlayBook help or hinder sales?

RIM’s Playbook has the right pieces in place when it comes to pricing and availability, but it’s not yet clear if the remaining pieces of the puzzle will fit.

13 Responses to “Will Pricing, Flash Sell RIM’s PlayBook?”

  1. Karl Kelso

    It seems that they placed significant emphasis on the “full desktop browser experience” and cast a negative light on app functionality. The thing that makes these new tablet devices desirable is the apps. The apps are one of the reasons the iPad and Android devices really took off and not just because they added a touch interface to a tablet. Tablets have been around for years and never really made it into the mainstream because they only offered minimal usage through a stylus input. There are so many apps that are actually better than sites on a computer browser. The apps are quicker and more convient than websites and are tailored for expediency. This is the reason Windows tablets will struggle trying to capture a large market share is because they are still trying to sell a full-blown OS tablet which will have some of the same drawbacks that a typical computer has. In a race to differentiate themselves from the iPad, the various manufacturers are creating some great alternatives to Apple but the more options they add, the greater the risk becomes of creating operating systems that are more complex in nature, thus returning to the full-blown OS situation. There are advantages and disadvantages to all the tablet devices out there and various devices appeal to different people for different reasons but apps are what made our current phones and tablet devices fun and very easy to use. The idea of a tablet may not be new but people’s concept of what a tablet should be is. The further they stray from simplicity, the harder the sell will be to a general audience.

  2. Looks pretty impressive but there’s going to be a lot of competition out there with the iPad 2, Xoom and Galaxy Tab. I must say though, after watching the vid, I’m quite intrigued by it. I’ll have to see it in action for myself before I decide. Well that … and the strength of the App World.

  3. Apple’s only problem in the tablet space is making iPads fast enough to meet demand. Considering BlackBerrys are being dumped en masse for iPhones/Androids right now, I have a very hard time seeing this making any headway.

    Samsung with it $469 entry price on the the newly announced Galaxy Tabs stands a much better chance to avoid DOA status.

  4. I still say this price point is something that only Apple can sell. Sell some? Yes. Sell lots? No way. Paying $500 + case + keyboard is a shitload of money for a secondary computing device. Sell some? Sure. Lots? Not a chance. I repeat. Apple can get away with a pricier tablet since they essentially created the market, have the App ecosystem that can’t be matched and because it’s Apple, people will pay premium price without thinking.

    • LegoMan

      “…and because it’s Apple, people will pay premium price without thinking.”

      There’s an elephant in the room. It seems as if everyone slamming the price points of non-Apple tablets dance around the real reason why the price is too high. It’s not for lack of features. It’s simply that the price of Apple’s product includes the value-add of it’s marketing. Without it, the price is too high.

    • junkyardwillie

      Last I remember it was still up in the air because Oracle was suing Google about some VM Client which is the same way that non-Android phones would be able to use Android apps. Until that is settled I doubt anyone will be jumping on board unless they want to hop on the legal liability train

  5. I don’t really see what this tablet has to offer that makes it a “must buy”. I wonder why they are charging $100 for 16GB of extra storage and $200 for 48GB of extra storage. The profit margin on that is very high considering the cost of USB flash storage. It seems more of a companion device to a blackberry phone than a stand alone device but perhaps it’s target is to the enterprise.

    • I can’t argue for/against what it offers because that’s a personal choice: if you don’t need Flash, don’t like the 7″ form factor, don’t currently buy in to the BlackBerry ecosystem, then this isn’t for you. Curious if you feel the same about the $100 storage pricing increments for Apple, which uses the same.

      • The pricing for storage increments are the same as Samsung is doing also. Everyone is “me too” with Apple but they aren’t Apple so while trying to grab market share why not offer better value for higher storage and then you might sell more higher storage devices.

    • It’s very unlikely that RIM is buying flash memory in anywhere near the same volume as Apple or Samsung, so they’re working a totally different economy of scale if that’s the case. Depending on your source, Apple is projected to sell 30-60m iPad 2s this year. I doubt RIM expects to sell 15m Playbooks.