Research in Motion (NSDQ: RIMM) has argued several times this year that close ties to wireless carriers will help it turn around its sagging fortunes in the mobile market. That apparently doesn’t extend to the Playbook tablet, as Sprint (NYSE: S) has decided against carrying a 4G version of the device based on poor demand.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Sprint has backed off plans first expressed at CES in January to carry a version of the Playbook for its network. Making matters worse for RIM, it cited poor demand for the product among the enterprise customers that are supposed to be RIM’s bread and butter, and who often buy mobile devices in bulk from wireless carriers.
That means no wireless carrier has plans to support the Playbook alongside the iPad, which is available from AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon, and other Android tablets also available from those carriers. Consumers have tended to buy Wi-Fi only versions of tablets, which are cheaper than the ones with both Wi-Fi and cellular data connections, so poor demand at a carrier may not necessarily reflect overall demand for the Playbook.
But it’s obviously not a good thing. RIM co-CEO Jim Ballsillie spoke often of the fact that enterprise customers were trying out Playbooks when defending his company against criticism over its falling U.S. sales this year. Unless those corporate customers are choosing Wi-Fi only versions over the cellular-equipped ones, RIM’s Playbook may never get off the ground.
Updated 2:11 p.m. PT – RIM issued a statement after the report emerged, claiming that it was focused on LTE as a 4G wireless standard. Sprint, of course, uses WiMax as its 4G standard at the moment. The statement doesn’t exactly address who first came up with the idea that RIM should focus on wireless networks other than Sprint, but here it is:
RIM has decided to prioritize and focus its 4G development resources on LTE. We remain excited and committed to delivering innovative and powerful 4G tablets to the US market together with our carrier partners. Testing of BlackBerry 4G PlayBook models is already underway and we plan to enter labs for network certifications in the US and other international markets this fall.