The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet isn't just a mouthful to say -- it's also a Hail Mary option for device designer Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) . Unfortunately, it looks like a fumble right at the snap. Maybe RIM needs a new center.
What's the scoop?
While I haven't gotten my paws on a PlayBook in person, reviews across the Internet are pretty one-sided:
- RIM seems to have rushed the thing out the door, expecting to fix major flaws with software patches later on. The compatibility layer for Android apps is missing at launch, though that was supposed to be a major selling point; likewise, the tablet doesn't have dedicated email and calendar apps yet.
- The PlayBook tries so hard to be both business and party that it fails to be either. It's the mullet of tablet computers.
- The Bridge system that brings enterprise-class messaging to the tablet is too dependent on having a BlackBerry phone available -- your mail is never stored on the tablet itself, so you're out of luck reading it if the phone runs out of batteries or something.
As Slate puts it, "The bigger problem is RIM's apparent belief that the only way to make a secure device was to make an unfriendly device." That's akin to how Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS ) treats its customers as walking security risks rather than as adults with some sense (and money to spend). If you want on-the-fly email, you can always fire up a browser and access your web-based accounts that way, says RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie.
The PlayBook's hardware is impressive thanks to a high-end ARM (Nasdaq: ARMH ) processor by Texas Instruments (NYSE: TXN ) and a fully decked-out collection of bells and whistles. Even the screen looks great, despite having a grainier resolution than the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPad line.
But the silly thing is unpolished enough to keep regular consumers at bay, and it's hardly the ironclad workhorse you'd need in a large-scale enterprise deployment. By trying to please everybody, RIM missed just about every mark. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) and Apple already cover everything RIM is trying to do here, and they tend to do it better.
It's not unanimous!
TheStreet reviewer Anton Wahlman carries a torch for RIM, calling the negative sentiments "unfair" and "contradictory." Wahlman notes that Apple launched the first iPhone without any apps at all, and that product line is doing more than alright.
Well, that was then and this is now: Apple and others have set a high bar for RIM to clear, and it didn't happen. A better comparison is probably the Palm Pre, which launched to much fanfare but atrocious third-party software support, and eventually sent Palm to the great scrap heap in the sky. Palm lives on as another unproven tablet platform for Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) .
Where do we go from here?
Consumers and corporations will settle the matter with their wallets, of course. In the meantime, RIM remains the same old, obstinate company that prays to be included in the mobile computing revolution it helped start -- but refuses to earn it by doing anything too drastic.
The stock looks cheap by traditional metrics, especially when you factor in current growth rates. But that growth train is headed for a brick wall in the not-too-distant future, and a wholesale change of management seems like the only way to prevent a complete crash. The PlayBook does nothing to change that outcome.
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