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 emphasizes how the keyboard, and its integrated trackpad, can boost productivity by using the hardware with a remote PC access service, such as Citrix 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 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?