Blog Post

Sorry — a $120 keyboard won’t save RIM’s $200 PlayBook

Research In Motion introduced a new wireless keyboard for its PlayBook tablet on Tuesday: The $119.99 accessory also includes a convertible case to hold both the keyboard and tablet. In a video demonstration RIM(s rimm) emphasizes how the keyboard, and its integrated trackpad, can boost productivity by using the hardware with a remote PC access service, such as Citrix(s ctxs) Receiver.

As a product, I think RIM’s new keyboard is a great idea. I’ve used 7-inch slate tablets since 2006 and have routinely used wireless keyboards with all of them. For productivity apps and fast text input on a smaller screen, few solutions beat out a traditionally-styled keyboard. But I’m not in love with RIM’s implementation of this useful product.

For starters, it’s challenging to sell a $120 accessory for a $200 device — the starting price of RIM’s PlayBook line. I’m not suggesting the price isn’t worth it — I’d actually argue that it is — but it could be a tough sell. Perhaps enterprises that have invested in PlayBooks will consider these, but few consumers are likely to spend this much. Those that have a PlayBook — and there can’t be that many since RIM has only shipped around of million of them — might buy, but this keyboard isn’t likely to attract many new PlayBook customers.

And that’s the crux of the problem: RIM arguably didn’t enter the tablet game with a complete product. The PlayBook debuted nearly a year ago without a native email client and lacking support for BBM. Fast forward to today, and the device only just received a software update last month, adding apps for email, a calendar and a subset of Android(s goog) apps. And now there’s a keyboard. The accessory should have debuted with the PlayBook, not nearly a year later.

As I said in my initial review, the PlayBook was great at what it can do; it’s what was missing that was the problem. It took RIM a long time to address most of the missing pieces that would make the PlayBook better, but data suggests that only the current device owners are benefiting.

Simply put: RIM’s investment in updated software and new hardware accessories isn’t likely to pull in new buyers. Even if RIM could get consumers to understand its progress with the PlayBook, I suspect many would comment, “So, essentially, you’ve mostly caught up to other tablets and still have relatively few apps.” I have to wonder at this point: Is the company just throwing good money after bad in an attempt to stay in the tablet game?

23 Responses to “Sorry — a $120 keyboard won’t save RIM’s $200 PlayBook”

  1. I’ts 2 things, a great protective case plus a keyboard. Other protective cases sell for $50-60 so the super thin, 30 day charge keyboard is quite nice to have.

  2. Looks like a small laptop or netbook. One cannot do away with the keyboard as easily as with the mouse. But comparing a playbook to iPad, I find the iPad over-sized while the Playbook is just perfect, not too constricting yet not too naive in its appearance. I do hope that RIM will continue in its approach/course with Playbook.

    But I will take a thin 15inch windows laptop over anything on the market today. Don’t really understand tablets or what purpose it serves.


    I thought I read somewhere that the Playbook and this keyboard uses data encryption for the bluetooth connection so make it very secure. I am not an expert nor do I play one on TV, but I would think this would be a very good thing for business users, etc. as I do not think that the bluetooth being used by the iPad or any of the competitors have any encryption. Again someone please correct me if I am wrong.

  4. I think you make too many assumptions about what potential playbook buyers and actual playbook users want. I am a very happy playbook owner. Frankly, I don’t really want a keyboard or native email and calendaring. For my family it’s a multimedia device that can deliver ebook, movie, browsing, flash games (for the kids primarily), social networking apps, and all of the key experiences I want on a small tablet, and at an appropriate price. iPads are too expensive, can’t multitask very well, and for no good reason do not support flash.

    My wife had no interest in even setting up Bridge let alone native email support. She is happy to do her after hours email triage with her blackberry and I think a whole lot of people – playbook users or not – feel the same way.

    And to get back to the keyboard, even for $200+$120 the device does so many things better than the iPad for a much more accessible price. I would love to see a follow up article that compares value and functionality in the tablet market. I think that side-by-side, where cost is a factor (surely for most household and business decisions), the Playbook is a much better device than you give it credit for.

      • Good question. In a nutshell: Apple product fetishism.

        I think that Apple/Steve Jobs idolatry puts blinders on people. I also think that it is a matter of region-centric biases (American press prefers to write about and support American products), and I imagine that a whole lot of people in the US tech sector or who write about US tech own stocks in Apple, which might also be a factor. All of these factors and no doubt others create a snowball effect which becomes self-fulfilling.

        I’ve only every owned Apple computers, and I am an iPhone owner (previously a blackberry owner). I love my computers, but the iPhone has some major shortcomings (as did the Blackberry). Difference is, articles like this treat the shortcomings of RIM devices as fatal flaws, and really ignore the problems of Apple products. For instance, cutting/copying/pasting on my iPhone is the bane of my existence. It can take 15 seconds to fix a typo in an email I am sending out and I most often have to delete the entire word to fix a single letter! I have yet to read a review that slams the iPhone for this although it is to my mind a fundamental usability problem in what is allegedly a perfectly designed and usable product.

        • Great points. In the mobile market Apple has become the standard by which others are judged so when a product doesn’t have a feature or function that an iOS device already has, it gets grilled. And any issues found in iOS can get glossed over. In my defense, I railed on iOS (and left the platform) partially because the notifications irked me to no end. It wasn’t until those were fixed that I added an iPhone back into my device rotation.

          Also of note (since you mentioned stock ownership), I wanted to point out that GigaOm writers are not allowed to own individual stock in any companies they cover. In fact, we can’t own stock directly in any company that is in the *industry* we cover. Appreciate the thoughts and the conversation!

  5. Paul Fezziwig

    Why is it professional journalists continue trashing the PlayBook but consumer reviews overwhelmingly love it? Who’s right? Or better yet, who’s opinion is more valuable?

    • Paul, I think you’re confusing the PlayBook as a product and RIM as a company. If you check my review of the PlayBook — linked in the post — I found it to be an excellent tablet for what it could do at the time. So I’m not trashing the PlayBook. Instead, I’m suggesting that RIM’s strategy to make the PlayBook a viable and financial success for the company is a “too little, too late” strategy, which is a very different point. Hopefully, that helps explain a little; thx!

  6. I actually think this is a pretty neat concept – $200 for a 7″ slate is right on the money, and a clamshell style keyboard/case accessory for $120 definitely adds value and functionality. For something that is both smaller and cheaper than a netbook, that provides full web browsing ability with a hardware keyboard, this opens up a lot of practical uses.

    Not sure where you’re getting the $200 price though Kevin – Best Buy and Office Depot still have it listed at $500.

  7. Read many such articles when Microsoft was coming out with win phone 7…. And all of them predicted the demise of msft. Do I need to point they were wrong?

    This article is in the wrong direction…. A device is worthy to the diff people in diff scenarios. The reason to come out with these accessories is to create an ecosystem so that people don’t feel restricted in using a device in a particular setting. While a magazine reader may not find the device useful, a business user will and will provide an incentive to buy the device. So the keyboard does open a new market for the device. Please research well before writing junk articles.

    • AK, what is it that you want researched? There’s plenty of evidence (both sales data and financial losses) showing that the PlayBook is not yet a success. Any PlayBook owner could have already added a wireless keyboard / mouse to the device if needed, so I’m not convinced this will matter. I do agree that some folks can benefit from the keyboard — I said that in the post. But you see this attachment as incentive to buy a new PlayBook? Sorry, but I’m not seeing it. Thanks for chiming in!

  8. lucifer lannock

    ‘As a product, I think RIM’s new keyboard is a great idea.’

    ‘But I’m not in love with RIM’s implementation of this useful product.’

    ‘I’m not suggesting the price isn’t worth it — I’d actually argue that it is — but it could be a tough sell.’

    ‘this keyboard isn’t likely to attract many new PlayBook customers.’

    ‘The accessory should have debuted with the PlayBook, not nearly a year later.’

    ‘As I said in my initial review, the PlayBook was great at what it can do’

    ‘Simply put: RIM’s investment in updated software and new hardware accessories isn’t likely to pull in new buyers.’

    ‘I have to wonder at this point: Is the company just throwing good money after bad in an attempt to stay in the tablet game?’

    …..trying so hard to make sense of this article

  9. Simon Cohen

    You’re being remarkably myopic on this. The $120 price point is steep, but you can bet it will be discounted down to $99 on a regular basis. That puts it in-line with many other competing keyboard products. But even if it stayed at $120, your comment that ” it’s challenging to sell a $120 accessory for a $200 device” is pointless. It’s about the value that the accessory brings and in the case of this accessory it delivers at least $120 worth of value. There isn’t a single product on the market that does for the iPad what this keyboard does for the PlayBook, at any price. If you’ve ever tried using a BT keyboard with an iPad you know what I mean. The constant need to use your finger on a screen that is now vertical instead of laying flat is *exactly* the reason why Apple has never added touch-capability to the iMac – it sucks. RIM’s keyboard lets you keep your hands and fingers where they belong – on the horizontal. This may not be the product that saves RIM, but it just turned the PlayBook into the first tablet that is a complete laptop replacement.

    • Simon, if you’re happy with this keyboard at $120, by all means, buy it and enjoy it. In the post, I pointed out the value such a keyboard can bring. But I was also looking at the big picture, which I think you tried to do as well at the end of your post. It also means you haven’t seen the Asus Transformer Prime with keyboard dock that debuted months ago, which gets to my point of “too little too late” for RIM.

      Bear in mind that for PlayBook owners, this is a VERY useful add-on. But are you trying to tell me that this keyboard will boost PlayBook sales in a meaningful way? That was really the point of the post, and I’m saying that it won’t.

      • Simon Cohen

        Fair enough, but why even question whether this accessory will help to sell more PlayBooks? If that was the strategy, they would have bundled the keyboard with the PlayBook for a $50 premium. BTW, the tranformer prime KB dock is $150 and does nothing to protect the tablet itself. Seems to me your critique of RIM’s product should apply there too.

        • Simon, glad to continue the convo: good questions and thoughts. I question the accessory selling more PB’s because RIM needs to sell more PBs. They’re taking huge losses on their entry to this market as evidenced by the last write down, near a half billion dollars. And I’m going to agree to disagree on the Transformer Prime keyboard dock: it protects the display when closed, has a second battery that brings total run time to 18+ hours, adds a full-sized SD card slot and USB port. Essentially, it offers far more than just a keyboard. Thanks!