What impact will LTE add to RIM’s PlayBook? (Hint: Zip)

BlackBerry PlayBook 4G

Research In Motion is set to release an LTE version of its BlackBerry PlayBook for $550 without contract, MobileSyrup reported on Tuesday. The site claims to have internal RIM documentation suggesting that the device will first appear on Bell’s network in Canada and will fallback to the operator’s HSPA+ network where LTE coverage is not available.

How much will the addition of cellular connectivity help RIM’s floundering tablet sales? Not likely very much, if any at all.There’s a couple of problems with this product update, if indeed, the reports are accurate. As has been the case with RIM of late, the main one is timing, although I question the company’s priorities as well. Where is BBM for the PlayBook without using the Bridge software and perhaps more¬†importantly, why not focus instead on getting the new OS on phones sooner?

For what was once a leading phone maker to take this long to integrate mobile broadband capability into a mobile device speaks volumes about the problems at RIM. And when RIM took the first steps 18 months ago to add cellular data connectivity¬†to the PlayBook, it initially chose to do so for Sprint’s WiMAX network; another poor choice as the carrier is moving on to LTE. Sprint eventually cancelled that PlayBook model.

Some few will appreciate the addition of LTE in a PlayBook, but I doubt RIM will see a significant sales boost because of it. One only has to look at the last two years of research to see that RIM’s resources would be better devoted to improving the device’s software and app selection; not the cellular radio integration. Earlier this year, industry analyst Chetan Sharma found that 90 percent of all tablets sales in the U.S. last year were Wi-Fi only models. Essentially, RIM is — at best — likely targeting a small percent of the tablet market, made even smaller by those who want a PlayBook in the first place.

Perhaps a simple question sums up the problem with RIM’s reported approach. How many people do you know that wanted a PlayBook but passed on it solely because it didn’t have a cellular radio?

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