One cool tablet cannot save a crumbling empire.
When somebody gets a mobile phone, they do so because they want to communicate with other people. This is the sentence that encapsulates RIM's burning focus with their mobile devices. At least, according to RIM's presenter at yesterday's BlackBerry Playbook announcement.
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On paper at least, the Playbook is pretty much a perfect all purpose communication device. It packs a mighty 1 GHz dual-core processor with a full GB of RAM and a 7" display with HD front-and-rear facing cameras. It links with your BlackBerry and also supports Flash 10.1 and HDML 5.
By all accounts, yesterday's keynote was extremely impressive. The Playbook looks fantastic, and the BBM Social Platform and Super Apps announcements were good to hear as well. From the content alone, yesterday should have been a major victory for RIM.
So why didn't it sound like one?
Odds are you didn't watch the streaming footage, so I'll sum it up for you. RIM's executives are some of the worst presenters in the long, shameful history of tech industry keynotes. Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis wasn't terrible, but he had the advantage of showing off a cool new gadget. Most of the other presenters stumbled through their half-remembered lines with a palpable aura of near-panic.
RIM spent a huge portion of the keynote re-iterating how "ground-breaking" and "game-changing" they have always been. This was most obvious with multitasking. I counted at least 3 times where a speaker re-iterated that BlackBerry has had multitasking since the beginning. It was even once appended with "everyone sees it but nobody knows its there", which is really not the best way to drum up excitement.
In fact, if I had to describe the whole non-Playbook portion of the keynote with one sentence it would be "trying to drum up excitement for stuff that already exists". People have forgotten that RIM is an innovator. Apple and Google make all the mobile headlines now. Android is gobbling up BlackBerry market share and pundits have been saying for a while that the BlackBerry era is over.
Apparently, these doubting words hit home for some of the presenters. For the first time in years, RIM had something new and exciting to show the world. Something that was representative of an actual mass consumer demand. They had new social platforms and new apps to (hopefully) help seal up their worst holes, and a snazzy new product line to suck the spotlight away from Apple.
And yet, I've never seen a cadre of executives so obviously filled with fear. They know what the stakes are here, and they can feel Android and iOS closing in around them. There will be a small window through which RIM will be able to wrestle control of the tablet market, and it is closing fast. The Playbook isn't due until 2011 and it will face the competition of a new iPad, Notion Ink's Adam and a host of new, next-gen devices.
The Playbook is an impressive device now. It blows every current tablet out of the water now. In a few months, that will not be the case. Unless RIM can keep interest high over the next wave of tablet announcements, they have no chance of gobbling up enough market share to make an impact.
True, the Playbook is the best enterprise-centered slate yet announced. But it also has to compete with the fact that businesses are losing interest in RIM products and that Apple and Android are getting better every day at catering to enterprise clients.
People do buy phones to communicate with other people, and the reason Android and Apple are thriving is because they are both better devices for the type of communication mass consumers want/need to do. The Playbook was a good first step towards reversing this trend, but RIM is going to need to deliver a lot more than one cool (and slightly late) tablet to pull their backsides out of the fire.
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The presenters knew this. You could see the fear in their eyes.