November 17, 2010

BlackBerry PlayBook, a Flawed Strategy

A few years back RIM used to be the leader in mobile email. Blackberry, an innovative product at the time, dominated its market of corporate users. The product was a single app, corporate email, and it provided a full, integrated experience for that one app.

But, then RIM rested while Apple worked hard to deliver a new set of innovative products to users. With the iPhone and iPad, you got a delightful experience right out of the box. And developers continued to please users by delivering innovative apps of all kinds. Apple also pioneered the touch interface, which attracted everyone to the devices. Apple created a healthy ecosystem where users and developers alike are happy and spending more time on the devices that continues to add to Apple’s momentum.

Having seen Apple’s success, RIM is now in a furious catch up mode. Introducing a touch screen phone to compete with the iPhone, then announcing the BlackBerry PlayBook (not shipping yet) to compete with the iPad.

Unfortunately, RIM has turned from an innovator to a follower and is just chasing Apple’s taillights. With me-too products and no innovation the products lack excitement. RIM is left with trying to get attention by doing a feature-comparison with Apple. A few examples -

* RIM says the PlayBook is ‘3 Times’ faster than the iPad (via Bloomberg).

While PlayBook is shipping YouTube videos iPad is shipping in the millions. By the time PLAYBOOK arrives, Apple will innovate with a new iPad

* RIM proudly proclaims “we have Flash” 

Users don’t care and don’t want Flash. They do want an integrated experience that Apple delivers fabulously. Flash also happens to be another technology that is suffering due to lack of innovation – from being a CPU hog and draining batteries to creating a bad user experience (slow websites and annoying flash ads).

* RIM says users do not want apps but only want to browse the web

With no apps for PlayBook vs 300,000+ apps for iOS, RIM’s position is understandable. It is trying to portray that apps are not needed, just don’t tell that to users. Users LOVE apps, they deliver a complete experience just like the old BlackBerry email app. And developers love it as it gives them a proper business model. Perhaps when HTML5 webapps become prevalent, the momentum will swing to platform agnostic apps but that is a long ways off.

The only consolation for RIM, other technology stalwarts such as Intel and Microsoft are following the same flawed strategy of chasing Apple’s taillights. The message for RIM is the same as for Intel, start innovating like a leader; there are plenty of opportunities to do so.