Cantech Letter contributor Adam Adamou talks about the launch of the BlackBerry Playbook and says the tablet and smartphone space has become a holy war between zealots of the different factions all vying for supremacy…
Few consumer devices have caused as much friction and debate as the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. For whatever reason, a certain brand of consumer seems to be much more passionate about their smartphones and tablet devices than those interested in, say, dishwashers or laundry machines. Laundry machines are important tools. I’d be willing to bet that there are more of them in US households than either smartphones or tablets, but one doesn’t see the level of passion on the release of a new washer or dryer as we do for a new smartphone or tablet. These are both important devices but the reaction by geekarati to their smart devices is tinged with a strangely religious undertone. The tablet and smartphone space has in fact become a holy war between zealots of the different factions all vying for supremacy in a new tabliphate. One must tread carefully in this space if one wants to survive.
Because of this zealotry, the launch of the PlayBook caused a great deal of debate and controversy, and reading through the reviews of the BlackBerry PlayBook by corporate and industry analysts, the consensus appears to be that Research in Motion has lost its way, that it launched a dud and that the ultimate fallback provision for dying tech businesses would soon be exercised and that RIM would inevitably be acquired by the Hades of tech companies, Microsoft. Since the launch of the PlayBook, RIM’s shares are down by almost 20%. Is this the end of RIM?
No. RIM has launched a great product that is slightly ahead if its time. It took some bad advice from the marketing department on how to position the tablet. They entered into a holy war unprepared for battle, and they were crucified for it. This, however, is a long term game and there is plenty of time for a comeback. As a true believer, I expect no less.
The PlayBook, at launch, is a BlackBerry tablet in the truest sense – to get the most out of the product you should be pairing it with a BlackBerry phone, and even better, a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). With this combination, your tablet becomes an extension of your phone, provides for a better experience, improves productivity while remaining secure under a lower total cost of ownership for your IT department. This is how version 1.0 of the tablet was designed to be used, and only the most immense of brain farts should have moved RIM off of this message. Sending a PlayBook to an iPhone user in the media, and asking for a review from them on that basis was a disastrous move, and I’ve talked to more than one RIM engineer who saw this disaster coming as the company jostled for position in Apple’s backyard. Understanding that this battle was a holy war, the PlayBook 1.0 should have had a limited launch, focused on the core BlackBerry fanatic along with the BlackBerry friendly media and blogs. RIM should have focused on the message that the current iteration of the tablet was going to do a limited launch targeted primarily for the core BlackBerry user, and that a future version for the broader converts would be released in short order. Some would still complain of course, but given that they complained regardless, it really is beside the point.
Even with this stunted launch, the PlayBook does appear to be gaining some traction. I certainly see more PlayBooks in the hands of corporate and Wall Street users than I do any of the Android devices. The size is perfect for a portable extension of the business phone. The operating system is excellent and the multitasking wonderful. It supports most web standards so surfing the web is a great experience. It works like a BlackBerry should. According to early reports, the launch went better than expected, with over 250,000 units sold in the first month. With relatively modest expectations of 500,000 unit sales in the first quarter, it would seem that this target will be reached. Morever, The PlayBook is selling well relative to the various Android Tablets, and may be in a position to take the number two slot in the tablet wars. Not bad, not bad at all.
Over the next three months, RIM has a few challenges however. First, because of the badly managed launch and the flawed initial messaging, RIM will need to fix the messaging, knowing that the competing factions of zealots in the media will pounce at any inconsistencies as evidence of a “flaw” in the underlying holy book. RIM will need to alter the messaging slightly to place the focus back on the BlackBerry user without giving the impression that they are giving up on the rest of the market, while ignoring the crazies out there. RIM has some very smart people, they will figure out a way to adjust the message. Second, they need to get some core apps out there, a Kindle app, a twitter app, a proper RSS reader, things that really should have been there on day one, and they should fix some of the early memory bugs and other nits that should be fixed before launch to the broader market. Third, they need to understand that they are focused on a niche that fundamentally rests on the corporate user. They need to stick to their home field advantage otherwise they will make the classic strategic error that will lead them to be “stuck in the middle” – with products that aren’t a great fit for either market. RIM needs to continue to focus on the advantages that they have over Apple and Google, advantages that I frankly don’t believe that the competition will be able to overcome. Apple and Google will eventually need to move to the corporate market if they wish to maintain their growth, RIM has an opportunity to secure this business before that happens. This is a tremendous strategic advantage.
Contrary to popular opinion, RIM is selling more BlackBerry’s today then ever – the number of units is increasing and the rate of growth is stable and even increasing. RIM has had the smartphone market all to itself for five years, new competitors will inevitably take market share, but the over-all market will expand and continue to grow. We are still in the early stages of a new communication revolution, and RIM continues to have all of the tools necessary for it to be a big winner.
RIM’s error to date is that they thought that they were a competitive struggle with Apple and Google in the smart device space, when in reality they were in the middle of a holy war. A battle of this type requires the immense loyalty of your adherents, and you need to be able to rally them up and to unleash them as they are your most powerful tool for winning new converts. RIM to date has fought this battle at the mouth of the lion’s den, and as a result they have taken on more than a few scratches. Once they realize the true nature of the battle, they be able to go to battle, and emerge not as the only religion, but one of the world’s great religions nevertheless.