RIM’s rumored 10-inch PlayBook: A bigger mistake

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Research In Motion is rumored to be launching a 10-inch LTE tablet in addition to an updated 7-inch PlayBook this year. The information comes from an alleged RIM roadmap that leaked, with the N4BB blog sharing the details. After nearly a year of dismal BlackBerry PlayBook sales, I’m not sold that a 10-inch tablet is the best idea for RIM.

Before explaining why, let me preface my points with an opinion on the current PlayBook tablet. I like the form-factor, as I’m a big proponent of 7-inch slates; I have used one daily since Dec. 2010. And what the PlayBook does, it does very well.

But what it doesn’t do is still an outstanding issue: It lacks a native email client and doesn’t have the breadth of available applications found on competing devices. RIM had planned to address those issues in a software update last year, but it has been pushed out until February of this year. At CES, I finally got a look at the updated software, and the email app impressed me; you can see it in this video below. However, the Android app player was still a no-show in my demo.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mNvtQeV42Q]

Even if RIM addresses these software issues in February, there’s still a problem. Weak tablet sales aren’t going to entice developers to build apps for the PlayBook. Instead, mobile apps are appearing for the platforms that are selling well and offering a broad user base for potential app sales. Think iOS and Android here.

Another challenge? If RIM creates a 10-inch PlayBook it will compete directly against the best-selling tablet: Apple’s iPad.

With the 7-inch size, RIM has a differentiating factor, although it priced the smaller tablet at large tablet prices. By creating a 10-inch slate, RIM will have to have an answer to the same question 10-inch Android tablet makers have struggled with: Why buy this instead of an iPad, which has a stronger ecosystem?

BlackBerry Messenger isn’t the answer, and even if it was, an updated BBM client isn’t even in the BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 software. Consumers are buying low-cost tablets, so a 10-inch slate won’t likely meet their budgets; especially if it comes with an LTE data plan contract.

IDG yesterday reported that 91 percent of business professionals are using the iPad for work communication. That means, to an extent, the enterprise finds Apple’s tablet safe and secure in the workplace; a perception RIM enjoyed exclusively for years. Simply put: if RIM creates a 10-inch tablet, who comprise the intended device audience and are their needs already being better served by an alternative?

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