Tablets are again in the news as RIM launches its Playbook, a tablet that diverges from the iPad mold in that it’s based on a 7-inch form factor, and from the Android craze because it’s based on RIM’s QNX operating system.
I’m not really too hopeful about Playbook, frankly. The problem isn’t the form factor or the OS as much as the need for RIM to straddle a high fence with its tablet.
You can’t win in the tablet device space, or even play well, without a strong consumer value proposition. RIM can’t hope to get any near-term traction with Playbook without tapping the Blackberry base. How do you do both, particularly at a relatively late date at the dance? Seven-inchers would be cheaper by nature (they’ve generally proven to be), but RIM has waited until the pricing on 10-inch tablets seems to be coming down. Given that the iPad has set the 7-inch form factor as the consumer standard, that means an uphill sell.
To add to the problems, Playbook is getting almost universally bad reviews, with the problems attributed to haste and hurry. Well, gosh, RIM, what were you thinking here? The instant the iPhone hit the market, every handset player had to realize that the whole wireless device market was a new game defined by a new player. Even before the iPad hit, RIM should have realized that Apple was going to continue to be a game-changer, and the instant it first appeared RIM knew it had to respond.
So hurrying to get something out? Not unless it waited a year before starting. The simple truth is that you can’t launch something whose sole goal is to compete with something else. You have to have an affirmative goal to support a doctrine of affirmative buyer choice or else you get fuzzy on both your value proposition and your differentiators — which is exactly what RIM has done.