RIM has finally rolled out the long-awaited update to its much maligned PlayBook tablet which includes support for Android Gingerbread apps and built-in email on the device along with several other key features, such as an updated BlackBerry Bridge which features support for BlackBerry smartphones as input devices, Bluetooth control and a new unified inbox for nearly all supported messaging services including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as personal and work email accounts.
The saga of the PlayBook is well documented as it was launched last April to great fanfare from RIM as it tried to carve a niche for itself in the still nascent non-Apple tablet market. Buoyed by the initial positive press received despite initial complaints about the lack of native email support and the need for a BlackBerry smartphone in order to have full functionality, the goals for the tablet were to attract corporate users and to have its own entry in the market.
Such lofty expectations were quickly dashed when sales proved to be much lower and slower than expected as the criticisms and shortcomings outweighed any positives the tablet did have, as consumers were driven away by the tablets high price and lack of functionality compared to similarly specified Android tablets and developers were equally driven away by draconian policies and expensive development programs while competing platforms offered free tools or in the case of Apple offered a flat fee for everything needed to develop applications.
RIM tried to assure both consumers and developers that many changes would be implemented for the PlayBook, which included many of the features in today’s update, but were initially promised nearly 8 months ago. When the delays proved to be too much, both developers and consumers simply lost interest despite RIM doing everything it could to drive sales, such as heavily discounted tablet pricing and even offering complimentary tablets to dealers if it meant selling the most tablets, to little success.
Ultimately, the lack of enthusiasm for the tablet caused RIM to write down $485 million in unsold inventory in the fourth quarter of last year and was one of the key reasons that ultimately led to the resignation of co-CEOs Lazaridis and Basilie in favor of their own hand picked successor in Thorsten Heins, who has done little to prove that RIM will make any substantial changes that are needed in order to keep the company from spiraling into consumer irrelevance.
The PlayBook 2.0 update also signals the continuation of the pseudo-firesale pricing that was common since the beginning of the holiday season last year as pricing for all three models has reverted to their pre-firesale levels, which will do little if anything for short-term sales numbers unless RIM commits to reducing pricing further to drive demand for the new update.
RIM is also expected to relaunch the tablet with the new update and introduce a 3G HSPA enabled version of the tablet later this year along with a 4G LTE version.