Someday, not very far in the future, in business school, the tales of both the BlackBerry PlayBook and the HP TouchPad will both be told. It will be recounted that when it finally came time for both of these companies to execute in their attempts to adequately compete with Apple’s iPad and Google Android Tablets, they both failed miserably.
But RIM and HP’s tablet failures were conceived in two completely different ways, even though both companies’ products and launch strategies had some overlap in terms of what they both tried — and failed to accomplish.
RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook: A Failure of Management
RIM had all of the ingredients to make the PlayBook a viable, healthy competitor to Apple’s iPad. The objective was to make the device the “Enterprise Tablet”, the one that busy jet-setting executives would carry in their vest as a pocket powerhouse and access all sorts of corporate apps with.
Besides the iPad 2, the PlayBook was probably one of the most anticipated mobile computing products of 2011. Its hardware and well as its core operating system, QNX, are considered by many including myself to be best of breed.
Also Read: iPad 2 vs BlackBerry Playbook — Of Course You Realize, This Means War.
In addition to having overall excellent build quality, the device’s OS is extremely responsive, stable, and features perhaps the highest performing and most compatible web browser on any tablet platform shipping to date. QNX’s multi-tasking on the PlayBook has to be seen to be believed.
The PlayBook’s video capture using its integrated front-facing 3MP and rear-facing 5MP cameras as well as on-board video conferencing is also considered to be the best of all of the tablets currently on the market.
Also Read: BlackBerry PlayBook Video Chat Hands-On: Best in Class?
However, despite the extreme care put into the actual engineering of the product, the launch of the PlayBook has widely considered to have been a failure, due to a lack of good applications seeded into the BlackBerry App World and the product’s lack of a native email and calendaring client.
Approximately 1/3 of the amount of PlayBooks shipped in Q2 2011 than originally expected, according to reports prepared by Asian consumer electronics research firm DigiTimes.
While I have no doubt that RIM employs a great deal of engineering talent that are capable of developing fantastic products, the company has made a number of strategic errors that likely have doomed the PlayBook platform to failure.
First is the issue that somewhere along the line, a management decision was made not to ship the product with native email and calendaring, and requiring the BlackBerry Bridge software and a RIM BlackBerry handset activated on BIS or BES in order to access email or calendaring. Software which until very recently, was prohibited from being used on AT&T BlackBerry handsets.
It has been alluded to by Business Insider that this key deficit on the PlayBook may have been a necessary trade-off in order to launch the product within the time frame of the release of competing products such as the iPad 2 and various Android Honeycomb tablets, due to architectural limitations in RIM’s centralized messaging infrastructure that needed to be fixed.
While these limitations in the messaging infrastructure do point to a failure to properly engineer the required back-end services to support the product, ultimately this boils down to a failure in management.
RIM could have waited until the product was ready and waited for a native client and back-end support to materialize prior to launch, if in fact the messaging infrastructure issues needed to be solved.
The second major management failure points to a lack of a clear application development roadmap as well as a failure to supply the appropriate developer tools required in order to properly seed the BlackBerry App World with good applications prior to launch.
This clearly evident due to the fact that RIM has announced no fewer than five different APIs for writing PlayBook applications: Adobe AIR, Webworks, Java, Android and Native C++. The last three of which have not yet been released to the balance of RIM’s 3rd-party developers yet.
The problem is that RIM decided to go with the least desirable application programming environment first, Adobe AIR. Not only did RIM’s key developer base not have core competency in Adobe AIR, but there were few good Adobe AIR or Flash-based apps to port over to the PlayBook, period.
All of the existing apps for Blackberry handsets are written in Java.
RIM announcing support for Android apps via a “player” shortly after product launch at BlackBerry World also added additional confusion and can be counted as a third management failure. If RIM had intended to provide Android/Dalvik VM support for the PlayBook in the first place, then why not provide those tools prior to launch?
Indeed, RIM had failed to foresee the problems of an “App Gap” on the PlayBook and were scrambling to provide tools and methods for leveraging the existing and very popular Android ecosystem.
Also Read: RIM’s Android Compatibility for BlackBerry PlayBook Will Be a Big Game of Chase
The Java/Android environment and the native messaging/calendaring apps aren’t due until later this summer, and the native C++ PlayBook development environment for QNX (which would truly allow the hardware to be exploited) isn’t due until around the fall, when Apple is expected to launch its highly-awaited iOS 5 update for the iPhone and iPad that will include support for the new iCloud service.