RIM tries hard to right the PlayBook

The BlackBerry maker's tablet recall doesn't affect most PlayBooks, but it's only the latest in a string of bad news for RIM.

In launching its own tablet, Research in Motion tried to take a page from the Apple playbook, but in the end it looks more like a move from now semi-defunct Palm's strategy on how to lose market share and destroy your influence with consumers and businesses alike.

It all started last month when RIM, maker of the BlackBerry handhelds, released the PlayBook, a tablet PC that arrived with practically no fanfare. Unlike the release of the iPad--or even a Harry Potter book for that matter--there were no lines for the PlayBook.

But now the "soft launch," as it has been called, could rival the previews of the Broadway production of "Spiderman" for this year's worst handled arrivals. Just this past weekend, and less than a month after the release, RIM recalled about 1000 of the tablets due to problems with the operating system.

This reportedly was only the 16GB versions of the 7-inch tablet--and while 1000 units might not sound like all that many, it is worth noting that the device hasn't exactly been flying out the door. Only about 45,000 units were sold on its launch day.

While the PlayBook has actually been praised for its size--PC World noted in hands-on testing that it was "light and balanced," and featured a clean design--you can't judge the PlayBook merely by its cover or design. With the PlayBook, RIM opted to go sleek and small, more paperback than hardcover, and that might have seemed like a good move. But its small form factor keeps it from being a content creation device for business users--and this takes us back to the fact that BlackBerry has been a favorite of those who are more work than play, and who already have a lot of power in their handheld.

The big "selling point" of the PlayBook was that it could sync with the smartphone--a feature that is actually necessary for the tablet to access e-mail, calendar, and even IM. As a result, it isn't seamless, especially as the BlackBerry is already ideal for on-the-go e-mail, calendar, IM, and Web surfing. As one BlackBerry user, for me the tablet's only advantage is a larger screen, but its smaller form has me reaching for my laptop instead.

The recall further proves that neither the size of the device nor the syncing (or is it "sinking?") connectivity issues are the only misprints with the PlayBook. RIM bought QNX Software Systems last year and used its OS for the tablet over the traditional BlackBerry OS. It looks like that wasn't exactly money well-spent by RIM, given this debacle.

While RIM has largely stayed on the sidelines of the showdown between Google's Android and Apple's iOS, by entering the tablet market BlackBerry is essentially in the fight. Why RIM decided it needed to enter this area is questionable, given that the company continues to hold its own in the handheld space. Now instead of having a bestseller, this PlayBook looks headed to the discount table.

Peter Suciu writes about technology trends for small business, but has an appreciation for the Victorian Age when the telegraph was the information superhighway. After living in New York City for 18 years, he resides in more rural Michigan.

This story, "RIM tries hard to right the PlayBook" was originally published by PCWorld.

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