I’ve been watching reviews of RIM’s Playbook keenly, not because I particularly want one but because I’m curious to see how this company faces what is now clearly a turning point in its life. Pressure has been building up on RIM to deliver something that reinvigorates its place in the market as an innovator and leader, having coasted for almost a decade on its early product language and culture.

The reviews are easy enough to find. The consensus: there’s real promise in the Playbook, but it’s been shipped half-baked, rushed out with a list of promises as long as its list of debut features. Taking a step back, the only question I’m left with is ‘why’?

Why did RIM feel it had to ship in April? In the tablet market there’s only one real entry so far: the Xoom is a flop, the PalmOS devices are still in development, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab offerings are amusing snoozers as well. Nobody gives a hoot about any of the iPad’s competitors; so, RIM, what was the hurry?

Had RIM’s executives stopped hyperventilating in the press, they could have seen that they were racing to a party that’s really still getting under way. Apple’s lead is too far for Playbook 1 to come close to catching. By spending a a couple more months, maybe even just a few more weeks, they could have shipped a far stronger debut tablet and come out a strong first-among-second-place entries.

There’s a big chunk of the market that iPad is not right for: corporate types who trust and are invested with the Blackberry brand, people who want a smaller tablet, and nerds who want to hack around on the high-horsepower QNX operating system. It would still be there, not embracing the iPad, in say June or July. Instead of doing their best to serve that market with a complete product, RIM has been spooked into releasing early with something confusing and far less than it could be, getting them nothing but a fumbled launch and scattered, halting applause from a press desperate for a tablet worth talking about that doesn’t start with an i.

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