Did RIM's Arrogance Screw Up the BlackBerry PlayBook?

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Nobody wants to trade places with Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) co-CEO Jim Balsillie. Last week came the very rocky introduction in New York City for RIM's tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook. The Wall Street Journal summary of the device by Walt Mossberg was terse: "[U]nless you are constantly glued to a BlackBerry phone, or do all your email, contacts, and calendar tasks via a browser, I recommend waiting on the PlayBook until more independently usable versions with the promised additions are available."

When BSN* saw the BlackBerry PlayBook at CES, it looked very promising. The screen was way more impressive than the iPad that one of our editors had bought. Looking at a movie was going to be great. RIM said the tablet would have stereo speakers, the same claim that Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) and Palm make for their webOS TouchPad. Flash looked great last week on the PlayBook, unlike the iPad and iPad 2. And there are only a few tiny buttons perched at the top of the PlayBook, but almost every major function can be controlled by touch, even turning the device on.

So what happened during the past 90 days? For RIM, it appears to be a case of "ready -- fire -- aim." This first problem surfaced in early April, when RIM's chief marketing officer, Keith Pardy, decided to leave the company for "personal reasons." Then there's the first-generation QNX operating system for a tablet. We can't wait to compare the BlackBerry PlayBook with the HP/Palm third-generation webOS TouchPad. Last week, the PlayBook's missing applications were an enthusiasm killer. Why would RIM show up without the most basic applications available on the cheapest of Asian clone tablets?

What's more, to make a PlayBook work, you must already have a BlackBerry phone. RIM claims that gives you the proven security of its proprietary applications. But it also means that for people who don't have a BlackBerry phone, the PlayBook is dead on arrival because of all the key features that will be missing.

RIM claims to overcome these "minor" inconveniences with a small piece of code called the BlackBerry Bridge. The Bridge software requires cellular connectivity and provides messaging and other crucial PIM functionality -- by transferring calendar, email, and contact data between a BlackBerry smartphone and a PlayBook tablet.

RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis said months ago that the major wireless carriers, including AT&T (NYSE: T  ) , Sprint (NYSE: S  ) , and Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) , will have the PlayBook. However, on Tuesday's first shipping day, Boy Genius Report showed a screen capture from AT&T that had no support for the BlackBerry PlayBook Bridge. To make matters worse for RIM, do you remember who was the exclusive carrier for its most expensive smartphone -- i.e., for customers who would pay an arm and a leg for a smartphone? Yep, you guessed it.

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AT&T is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. This article has been lightly edited from its original format. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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