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Will the BlackBerry Playbook go the way of the HP Touchpad?

BlackBerry may have announced disappointing results, but a tablet is an essential part of its portfolio, argues Matt Warman


Last quarter, Apple sold 9.5 million iPads and BlackBerry sold 200,000 of its much vaunted PlayBook ‘rival’. To put it another way, Apple sells more iPads in two days than BlackBerry sells PlayBooks in three months. No wonder Research in Motion’s profits halved in the same period.

Some internet commentators have even wondered whether RIM will survive, apparently ignoring the fact that even Nokia is resolutely surviving while making a loss. BlackBerry has too many major companies tied to its enterprise products – but the fact remains, the company has yet to start its recovery.

It’s worth looking at why the PlayBook isn’t working: it doesn’t have native email, so it only runs usefully in conjunction with a BlackBerry handset tethered to it. It’s 7”, when BlackBerry’s business customers are particularly likely to also have a laptop with them and so less likely to need a frustratingly small tablet. And it lacks the apps that could turn imperfect hardware into a compelling proposition.

But that aside, the PlayBook is a lovely device, well-made and with good specifications. Unlike the TouchPad, it is not painfully slow to do some basic things. And it has a real place as a portable notepad during presentations, for instance. RIM’s co-CEO Mike Lazaridis assured investors that crucial Playbook update to allow it to run Google Android apps and finally get email was on its way very soon, but then that was promised in my original BlackBerry Playbook tablet review way back in June.

And while HP was led by a new CEO with little commitment to consumer hardware, Leo Apotheker, RIM’s top management is so committed to its products it could be accused of stubbornness. But that doesn’t change the fact that just as Apple meshes the iPad with the iPhone so RIM will need to combine a smartphone with its tablet offering. So long as consumers continue to use the phones, whether they’re business people or RIM’s growing army of teenage fans, it seems highly unlikely that BlackBerry will abandon the Playbook.

What should the company do, however? The answer, surely, is what it is currently doing: only by holding its nerve and finally launching its new QNX-based products will the company get the chance to find out if it can still compete.

Filed in: Technology News

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