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Why not even a $199 PlayBook tablet will help RIM

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Holiday shoppers seeking a tablet bargain have another option: Research In Motion has slashed the starting price of its BlackBerry PlayBook line by $300, meaning it’s only $199 for the 16 GB version. RIM’s (s rimm) website says for a limited time, the $199 deal is available at Walmart (s wmt), BestBuy(s bby), Office Depot(s odp), and Radio Shack(s rsh). Some may jump on this deal, but even at $199, I don’t expect RIM to see a massive uptick in PlayBook sales.

It may sound counterintuitive, but the last thing RIM needs is to sell more PlayBooks. Regular consumers, which this deal is targeted at, are likely to end up disappointed by the purchase, which would generate even more negative publicity for RIM’s tablet.

I suspect buyers would be disappointed because they would find no native email client and a limited selection of applications. While the PlayBook runs Flash(s adbe) extremely well, (here’s why) even non-techie people may have heard Flash is now a dead end on mobile devices; Adobe is finally abandoning it. So even this feature has a limited shelf life.

Then there’s the competition at this price point. The regularly priced PlayBook couldn’t fight against the iPad(s aapl) at $499, and I don’t think it stands much of a chance against the new Kindle Fire (s amzn) and Nook Tablet (s bks) priced at $199 and $249 respectively.

With either of these devices, consumers get very similar hardware with the addition of a stronger ecosystem. So what makes a $199 PlayBook more compelling than either? For most people, it won’t be. We recently saw HP (s hpq) sell a boatload of TouchPad tablets at the low fire-sale price of $99 and $149 — enough to take second place behind Apple in tablet sales, reports NPD — but I don’t expect to see the same frenzy around this limited-time PlayBook deal. Time will tell.

RIM’s PlayBook problem isn’t that it isn’t selling PlayBooks, though that’s also true. RIM’s PlayBook problem is that it hasn’t offered a solid reason for people without a BlackBerry phone to buy a PlayBook in the first place. It was priced too high out of the gate and was missing key software features. The PlayBook works great for what it does, but what it doesn’t do is the issue.

Instead of selling hardware at what’s likely under cost, RIM should instead deliver the software updates it promised months ago to bring native email support and the Android (s goog) application player. Then, maybe, a $199 PlayBook might appeal a little more.

50 Responses to “Why not even a $199 PlayBook tablet will help RIM”

  1. I recently bought a Bold 9900 for my younger daughter, who is primarily interested in quick messaging. She liked it a lot, and on her recommendation, I got Bold 9900’s for her sister and mother – they too are happy with theirs. Again the main focus is messaging, which the Bold 9900 does very well (and quickly, with a combination of keypad, touchpad (for revisions) and touch screen (for scrolling)).

    With great difficulty, I have now purchased a Playbook 32 gb for my younger daughter, for Christmas. It was sold out everywhere, and I was about to give up on it until I found one on the Walmart site, of all places. Everywhere, I see reviewers complaining about the need to tether the Playbook to a Blackberry phone. For us, this is actually an essential advantage, as it avoids having to have a second wireless plan – and my younger daughter always has her phone with her, so it’s no problem. No way that she would want to pay anything for a second plan for a tablet device, so the Playbook is really the only option, as well as the preferred one.

    So yes, there are some happy customers (and some repeat customers) out there. We had never had any smart phone until a couple of months ago, so there are even some new customers out there.

    • GuesPBUse

      The thing is chk rim site, we will get free upgrade to os2 over the air which will run anroid apps, native client, whatver else is missing..just bought playbook and I am impressed. The only thing is bad about is apps but do I care about just want to use it for net, web based emails and work stuff.

    • Alex Kinsella

      Hi @John_D,
      Alex from RIM here. Thank you very much for sharing your experience and for being part of #TeamBlackBerry. It’s great to hear of families staying connected over BBM. You really nailed one of the PlayBook’s key differentiators – BlackBerry Bridge. This app allows BlackBerry smartphone users, like your family, to access email, calendar, contacts, memo pad, tasks and BBM – all on the PlayBook’s larger display. You can even access the web when you’re outside of Wi-Fi coverage using your existing BlackBerry smartphone’s data connection (check with your wireless carrier for your individual options) – a key consideration for many users.
      Once your daughter opens up her Christmas gift, make sure she checks out this helpful interactive guide so she can hit the ground running with her new PlayBook:
      Alex, RIM Social Media Team

      • Alex I’m glad you answered and made it clear how good this is for RIM users. But it also shows how uninteresting it can be for non RIM phone users. The “feature” you state of using the phone as a mobile hotspot is available on many phones. I have 6G/mth I share with my iPad2. However the choice was mine. iPad2 WIFI or iPad2 WIFI+3G. 3G and then 4G was promised for the playbook quite some time ago, like the OS improvements and they have yet to materialize. The OS will arrive in time for iPad3 and IceCream Sandwich tablets from Android (which are already arriving), and yet BBM will only arrive later. Please explain what is the real strategy here because it escapes me.

  2. Native email client? You techies need to step out of the ’90s. I stopped using a native email client years ago. Cloud-based email so that you can access it from any system attached to the internet is the way to go (gmail, ISP or the office webmail, etc). Most people don’t need to download their email to a single device and would be much better off using those alternatives.

    • Andre Goulet

      trev: Many of us use GMail or some such with IMAP so we can have the best of both worlds. Rich email clients that are local to the device are not just nicer to use, but also a necessity for travellers and such who lose connectivity but still want to be productive. The bubble you live in isn’t necessarily the bubble others live in.

  3. I disagree with a few things said in this article. If you are shopping for an eReader, this tablet works great! Compared to say the Kobo Vox, it holds twice as much for $199, is much more responsive (have you tried a Vox? You really have to press hard to get it to register key presses).

    With version 2.0 of the OS coming, which will include a calendar and contacts apps, RIM is addressing these apparent major issues for it’s end users.

    I do have a BB phone that I can bridge to but honestly, if you want it for a color eReader, video player, sit on the couch web browser, you can’t really go wrong for $199.

  4. You hit the nail on the head Kevin. The problem with the playbook was that it was designed to complement RIM’s smartphone. What they should have done was put the guts of a BB smartphone inside with all the bells and whistles – PIM functionality, working BT – and make smartphone integration OPTIONAL rather than REQUIRED.

    I actually liked the PlayBook during my brief look. Indeed, if I could have seen calendar, email, contacts and tasks functionality standard fare, I would have given it a recommendation. And that’s rare from me given my unequivocal preference for netbooks!

  5. PlayBook has been on sale for $199 in Canada since Thursday and is completly sold out,on-line or in stores. Check Best Buy Canada or Staples Canada web site. Same with Future Shop and The Source (was Radio Shack). Notwithstanding all the negative press and Apple lovers who consistantly overpay, the people have spoken.

    • The bugger is that RIM NEVER gives actual sales numbers… just channel. That is why they good give pretty decent numbers one quarter and disastrous numbers the next. You can only stuff the channel so much and then it chokes. Leaving you with embarrassing numbers soon enough. Apparently Samsung gets around that by sometimes even skipping quarterly shipments as well.

  6. I just bought the $199 Playbook and was more than impressed with it. I like the idea that my emails are not stored on it and that I need to use the bridge – which works perfectly. If it weren’t for all the bad reviews initially, I would have purchased it when it first came out – and now what I see people were complaining about the Bridge, to me is makes so much sense to do it that way – security, security, security! I am shocked at how great the tablet is – wow.

    • Consumer X

      You and me both. I only jumped into tablet market because of the great price point on the playbook. That’s why they are so hard to get a hold of now, sold out everywhere. Consumers who don’t have a tablet going out in droves to buy it just for price point and will more than likely like it. Same would have been true if it was the ipad for that price.

  7. gusetClient

    I don’t agree.
    new OS2 for playbook will support native email client and can run andriod applicaion on it.
    I think author should do more investigation before writing the article.

    • Yes, the next OS version — due out in February — will have a native email client and Android app support. I knew that. RIM said in March they’d deliver the email client in about 3 months. That delivery date was pushed out to February. My point was that it’s late. ;)

  8. I own the playbook, but i must say if this is the way the update is gonna be then i probably wont update at all. I would speculate that rim hasn’t managed to add android to their devices without exposing their security software to hackers and this has held them back. Android and ios have been exploited in every conceivable manner rim cant afford that happening. I disagree with your assessment about flash it will be years until the current mobile versions will be obsolete, ipad 4 will be out and flash will be working fine on these devices.

  9. It smacks of desperation yes, but seems to me this price drop might actually work as RIM is hoping – namely, to drive adoption across the entire BB product range. My case is typical (as I’m sure RIM is hoping): I have a Bold 9700 and was thinking of upgrading to an Android handset soon, but I just bought a $199 Playbook, and chances are much better now that I’ll consider another BB instead of an Android so I can continue taking advantage of RIM’s “bridge” functionality.

    • That makes total sense Thomas; might be a good buy for you due to your ownership of the Bold. What always bothered me about the PlayBook strategy was the heavy tie to BlackBerry phones. An approach like that is good for sales to your existing user base, but does little to expand beyond your existing user base. Enjoy the PlayBook if you get it; as I said in the post: what it can do, it does really well.

      • Even if the PB came with a mobile network radio, I doubt I’d have much appetite for yet another monthly bill from one of the major carriers just to keep my tablet fed with 1’s and 0’s. I actually quite like the model where a smartphone handset acts as a nerve centre for the entire constellation of mobile gadgets you happen to be carrying. If RIM were to extend BB Bridge and open up the protocol so that a Bold could serve content to an iPad, and an HTC Desire could serve content to a Playbook, they might just have an ass-saving technology on their hands.

  10. respighifan

    wrong wrong wrong – went to Staples and to Best Buy and they were both sold out. So they seem to be selling well, a good move since they want to keep BBX-powered devices in the marketplace as much as they can. Further, spare us the notion that the PLaybook does not stand up well to the Kindle Fire etc in terms of hardware. That is a lie, plain and simple.

    • Do you know how much PlayBook stock that Staples and BestBuy had before the price drop? That’s a key datapoint for “they seem to be selling well.” ;) Regardless, the post doesn’t say the Playbook doesn’t stand up well to the Fire in terms of hardware; it says they’re similar. That’s the truth, plain and simple. Short of the cameras, twice the storage/RAM and a microphone, what’s different? Both have the same TI OMAP 4 4430 dual-core processor, screen sizes, display resolution, etc….

      If you’re looking solely at hardware, yes, the PlayBook bests the Fire (and to a lesser degree the $249 Nook Tablet which lacks only the cameras). But if you’re looking solely at hardware for a tablet purchase, you’re only making a decision with half the relevant information: software, features, user experience and ecosystem are what most people should also consider.

      In any case, if you want or have a PlayBook and you’re happy with it, that’s great! I’ve said for years that the best mobile device is the one that meets your needs, regardless of who makes it.

      • <>

        Well, there are a few little differences. Like Bluetooth connectivity, GPS, HDMI video out …

        Also, as of the last tests & specs I’ve seen, the PlayBook had the brightest screen (both max and default brightness) usable in direct sunlight, the highest color fidelity of any tablet, and one of the best stereo speaker systems …

  11. Silly article.

    Flash is dead end on mobile but NOT computers. Websites will continue to run Flash for years and YEARS to come, this tablet will be able to display those website properly. Games, activities, videos, all run on flash on the web, and this tablet can play them. Hows that for apps for you?

    And as for email. Most people don’t even know what a “native email client” is. They go to gmail, or hotmail, or yahoo. And the playbook blazes on those sites.

    I own a new fire, and a playbook, and they are incomparable, the playbook blows it of the water in speed, interface and design.

    I know its popular to crap on RIM but at least try and make sense while you do it, what does the fire offer that the playbook does not? Native email client, please. Playbook only lacks in APPS, and that will get solved with more sales, and the android player.

    • Gino, how do you get email notifications on the PlayBook? Simple answer: you don’t. Consumers are accustomed to getting a notification when email arrives and not just on mobile devices, but on desktops too. Flash support is nice and as I said in prior articles (where I praised the PlayBook, mind you) RIM’s tablet offers the best Flash mobile experience I’ve seen yet. But as the iPad without its Flash support has shown, far fewer people care about Flash on a mobile device. For those that do, the PlayBook is stellar.

      Based on my hands-on experience with the PlayBook and my response, I don’t see that the post is silly at all. We can agree to disagree of course. ;)

      • Gino Russo

        Email updates? I get them on my phone. I havent opened up an “email client” in years other then my work required novell groupwise which doesnt work on any other tablet anyways. RIM is holding back the release so that it will work with Enterprise email, which is a concern for people who use the enterprise email, but not for regular users.

        Most people want a tablet to browse the web, read books or docs at meetings, watch videos and show off a cool toy. The playbook can do this all better then the ipad OR the fire , it has multi tasking and provides a much quicker user experience then the ipad and is faster then the dual core android versions (android doesn’t seem as optimised to me, still slow for some reason on blazingly fast hardware).

        Apps however are important, it can’t yet search a pdf, and while there are thousands of GREAT flash games for the playbook, there arent thousands of great game-apps for the playbook, yet. This is the one reason why the playbook is not worth 599. But in my opinion this is not a reason why its not worth 199. At 199, it is a complete steal as this device is in the ranks of iPad and Galaxy range for tablets and is superior in many way.

        Sorry just getting sick of people telling me that my Bold is garbage because it doesn’t have Siri. My Bold is a beast, and I can write a novel as an email reply before an iphone user can finish a sentence. Media keeps telling me RIM is behind the times because it doesn’t have a shazam app. This theme is getting old.

        • Gino, great response; thx! I get that the PlayBook meets most, if not all of your needs. I really do. And as I said in the post, there’s much to like about it. The problem is: most other people won’t invest in a tablet without a solid ecosystem of apps or media. For that reason, the PlayBook isn’t appealing to the mass market / general consumer. It appeals to you and you like it. That’s great. But it’s not appealing to many others. Perhaps it will appeal more at $199, but not enough to move millions of PlayBooks IMO.

    • Consumers don’t care about flash. When they go on a site that has flash on their tablet, if for example they can’t play a video – they move on and will most likely not bother with that site again. If a website has flash, that’s their problem. Nobody is ditching their iPad for a Playbook so they can use flash.

      • Consumer X

        But if you are not in the market yet, as I was, the $199 price sold me on the playbook and am loving it. Can’t even find em in stores at that price. Consumers will go for the price point as I have.

    • 2 problems Gino.
      1) Mobile devices are quickly becoming the favorite way to access the internet… not by a little but by a lot!
      2) By going HTML5 many sites manage to give their POTENTIAL clients, with Flash-enabled devices (which even by Adobe’s admission, did not work very well), better access to their sites AND they get access to a HUGE pool of iOS device based customers (highly desired demographics). This does not remove access from laptops and desktops. Taking a look from a purely business and non-IT perspective, would you spend money on 2 different versions of your site? Not likely. That is why I strongly suspect you will see Flash disappear from all platforms very quickly. (within 2-3 years)

  12. Isaac Naor

    Completely agreed! A Playbook without a compatible (tethering enabled) Blackberry is absolutely useless (considering the lack of native email client & calendar application). Furthermore, it isn’t even a viable e-reader for most people due to the lack of availability of e-reading applications…which reminds me of three relevant letters – D.O.A.

    • respighifan

      …”which reminds me of three relevant letters – D.O.A.”
      Ah yes – a trained seal repeats what his … oh forget it. Out of respect for Mr. Jobs, I will not continue the line – but seriously, for crying out loud, do you guys ever think for yourselves? Is there such a thing as a non-brainwashed ifan?
      Try framing an argument using your own paradigm.

      • dungeonmaster

        I agree respighifan, Most of the comment is from a brainwashed Apple user or one of the hired lackies to undermine BB. Too bad that these people can’t thin k for themselves