Research In Motion's PlayBook finally reaches store shelves today, priced to compete with Apple's iPad 2 and seeking to overcome some bad reviews.
Research In Motion's BlackBerry
PlayBook tablet hits store shelves April 19. Can the device overcome a spate of
mediocre and negative reviews?
That remains a key question for RIM,
which is depending on the PlayBook to help reinvigorate its brand at a time when
Apple, Google and other competitors are making great strides in the mobility
space. Although RIM's storied BlackBerry franchise retains a significant
presence within businesses, analysts and pundits seem concerned that the
company's products are failing to capture the hearts and minds of consumers.
According to an April 18
report in the Wall Street Journal
, "Many analysts expect the company to
ship somewhere [between] 2 million to 4 million tablets during the 2011
calendar year." For its part, RIM will likely stay tight-lipped on sales until
its next quarterly earnings call, if not beyond.
includes several features designed to differentiate it from
the tide of Android tablets flooding the market. Those include the proprietary
QNX-based operating system, which emphasizes multitasking, along with a
touch-sensitive casing for navigating on-screen menus. With the BlackBerry
Bridge tethering feature, the PlayBook can display a nearby BlackBerry's
emails, calendar and other vital information-all of which disappear once the
smartphone is taken out of range.
Although the Bridge may appeal to
BlackBerry owners, it risks alienating those with other types of smartphones.
The PlayBook features no native email app, although RIM has promised one in a
future software update.
RIM has priced the PlayBook at $499 for
the 16GB model, $599 for the 32GB model and $699 for the 64GB version. That
places the device roughly in the middle range of tablet pricing, and toe-to-toe
with the iPad 2, whose 16GB version retails for $499, 32GB for $599 and 64GB
Longer-term, some analysts have RIM
pegged as a notable-but not dominant-player in the tablet market.
According to an April 11 report from
research firm Gartner, Apple's iOS will continue to dominate the media-tablet
market through 2015, with a 47.1 percent share. Android will nip at its heels
with 38.6 percent, followed by RIM with 10 percent, HP's webOS with 3 percent
and MeeGo with 1 percent. "Other operating systems" will bring up the rear with
a paltry 0.2 percent.
The report also suggests that RIM will
claim some 5.6 percent of the tablet market in 2011, beating webOS but lagging
Android and iOS.
Gartner defines a "media tablet" as any
touch-screen device measuring between 5 and 15 inches on the diagonal and
running a lightweight operating system such as iOS, Android or RIM's QNX-based
OS for the PlayBook.
In the meantime, RIM faces some
challenges with the PlayBook. Many of the early reviews have focused on the
lack of apps, with an applications storefront (App World) that feels positively
sparse in comparison to those offered by Google and Apple. (In
its own review
, eWEEK found the QNX operating system a little buggy,
although those issues will presumably be fixed by future software updates.)
"It will take time and significant
effort for RIM to attract developers and deliver a compelling ecosystem of
applications and services around QNX to position it as a viable alternative to
Apple or Android," Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner, wrote
in a statement.
The key market for the PlayBook's
growth, she added, is "organizations that will be interested in RIM's tablets
because they either already have RIM's infrastructure deployed or have
stringent security requirements."
But consumers will ultimately make or
break RIM's chances in the broader market-and the company's chances of
revitalizing its brand.