BlackBerry PlayBook Folly

Missteps doom PlayBook, iPad has little to fear

"For each thing there exists an instant in which it collapses. A house, a person, an adversary, collapses over the course of time following discordances in cadence." -Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings (1645)

The BlackBerry PlayBook missed its iPad moment, in everything from time to market to innovative features to consumer appeal to launch execution.

It is, as Apple CEO Steve Jobs predicted, dead on arrival.

There's no question RIM badly fumbled the PlayBook launch. I can't remember the last time a major tech vendor delivered a marquee product under so much confusion.

Just try answering these questions with any level of certainty: Do you need a BlackBerry smartphone to access e-mail? Will AT&T let you download the critical BlackBerry Bridge app? Does the PlayBook handle Flash and Android apps or are these "upcoming" features?

Popular gadget reviewers such as Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal panned the PlayBook due to its co-dependency with a BlackBerry smartphone. While the PlayBook matches the pricing model of the iPad, it has a smaller screen and far fewer native apps.

It's a good bet RIM is intending to use its enterprise relationships to maximize PlayBook sales. The thinking goes, companies will buy PlayBooks and force them on their BlackBerry-toting employees.

But this, too, is out of step with current trends, namely the "consumerization of IT" where consumers bring their own devices to work. The PlayBook is focused on the enterprise when it should be catering to the consumer.

Perhaps most telling, the late-coming PlayBook gave the iPad (and its apps) an opportunity to win over a few of RIM's most coveted customers: BlackBerry IT folks in charge of technology in the enterprise.

Last year, Erik Woodland, technical support supervisor and network administrator at Fenner Drives, a manufacturer of power transmission and related products, reluctantly gave up his BlackBerry for an iPhone during a company transition to iOS.

Now armed with an iPad 2, Woodland has a variety of apps, remote desktop utilities and a terminal emulator to help him do his job more efficiently and effectively. One example, software vendor Rove recently developed a native iPad app of its flagship Rove Mobile Admin, which Woodland uses to check the status of servers from anywhere and to receive notifications when something goes wrong.

The IT staff also has to support hundreds of iOS devices in the field. While BlackBerry has a leg up on manageability and security, Woodland says, Apple has made significant strides.

The question now, will the PlayBook sway folks back toward BlackBerry? Woodland doesn't anticipate this, in fact he doesn't see executives or employees seeking support from IT for PlayBooks or Android tablets.

That time has passed, he says. "We're sold on [iPhones and iPads] now. I don't think any of us would want to go back to the BlackBerry."

Of course, none of this is good news for consumers. Serious iPad competition would have led to an upbeat market cadence bringing forth innovation while keeping prices low. Too bad RIM stumbled out of the gate.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Tom at tkanshige@cio.com

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