Research In Motion is denying reports that it plans on discontinuing the WiFi-only version of its PlayBook tablet.
"Rumors suggesting that the WiFi version of the BlackBerry PlayBook is being discontinued are pure fiction," a company spokesperson wrote in a July 18 email to eWEEK. "Over the past month, the PlayBook has launched in 16 additional markets around the world and further rollouts are planned for Southeast Asia, Western Europe and the Middle East."
Those rumors of a discontinued PlayBook stemmed from RBC Capital Markets managing director Mike Abramsky, who, according to a July 18 posting by the blog Boy Genius Report, "reiterated an OTR Global report that Research In Motion is possibly planning to stop production of the current WiFi BlackBerry PlayBook model." BGR's Jonathan Geller has done quite a bit of deep digging into RIM's alleged corporate issues, so the blogosphere immediately locked onto the posting.
RIM had high hopes for the PlayBook, which runs the company's QNX-based operating system. The tablet sold around 500,000 units in its first quarter of release, but according to an unnamed RIM employee speaking to Boy Genius Report, the company didn't sell those units at full margin.
"RIM's thought process was that they hoped if they put a product in the carrier's hands that was less than full margin, it would entice the carriers," that employee is quoted as saying in a July 13 posting. "RIM isn't making any money on the PlayBook."
The PlayBook needs a nearby BlackBerry device to provide native email, something the source added was off-putting to the carriers. RIM has been pushing through regular software updates to PlayBook owners, but it remains to be seen whether the tablet can sustain momentum in a marketplace dominated by the Apple iPad and increasingly filled by competitors such as Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1.
During a July 16 earnings call, RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie suggested to analysts and media that RIM is in a serious period of "transition," but that the company's top executives nonetheless have a plan to guide the company back to productivity. At the time, RIM announced it would begin laying off employees as part of a "streamlining of operations."
RIM plans on porting the QNX operating system to smartphones. Those "superphones," as the company calls them, will theoretically arrive on store shelves in the second half of 2012. RIM is betting that updating its product line will help reverse its market declines and build some positive buzz about its prospects. Until that QNX transition, however, the company will need to rely on the BlackBerry 7 OS for its smartphones, which isn't a radical upgrade from the previous operating-system version.