Research In Motion finally launched the 7-inch PlayBook tablet back in April last year after much delay since 2010. Though the tablet was aimed at the enterprise market, it shipped with none of the tools used in the field. It had no email support, no calendar, and no BlackBerry Messenger, unless tethered to a BlackBerry phone.
Globally, it was disappointing, having shipped only 850,000 units in three quarters and selling clearly much, much less. RIM shipped 500,000 PlayBooks in its first quarter of sales, dropping to 200,000 in the second, and then 150,000 in the last quarter of the year. Those are units shipped to retailers, not sold to consumers.
The company then put the PlayBooks through two fire sales, first at the end of last year when it halved the prices of each model, and then this month when it changed the prices to just $299 across all three models. It also failed to deliver 3G and WiMax versions of the device.
Despite those glaring failures, there are software developers who are still interested in creating applications for the PlayBook. At the BlackBerry developer conference in Singapore in early December, over a thousand attendees showed up and each one received a complimentary PlayBook.
Abul A’la Almaujudy was one of the attendees at the BlackBerry conference. He is one of the founders of Better-B, a Jakarta-based mobile application development company with products spanning multiple platforms.
He explained over email that RIM, at least in Southeast Asia has a very good relationship with developers. Indonesia is still a very strong BlackBerry market and the vibe is still very good for the Canadian company despite facing challenges from the government.
The PlayBook he said, is highly explorable and developers love to explore new devices. Given the hardware features, there are plenty of possibilities that can be seized using the tablet.
RIM recently held a hackathon in the country as well as being very cosy with the Jakarta chapter of Mobile Monday.
Didiet Noor, a game developer from Yogyakarta, while not a BlackBerry user is excited about creating games for the PlayBook. Thanks to the range of development paths, he’ll be able to tackle applications using multiple approaches.
Noor isn’t concerned about the lack of adoption in the market. What he’s after is the experience and challenges in developing for a new platform. Having Adobe Air, Webworks, NDK, and Android Runtime as tools that he can use to create games for the PlayBook, he’s actually looking forward to it.
Aria Rajasa is another entrepreneur who sees the PlayBook’s opportunity beyond market adoption. He said that someone could make money from selling a PlayBook bundled with an app or a collection of apps built for specific purposes. Instead of aiming for the consumer market, one could sell the bundle as a customized purpose-built device.
These may very well be good reasons to still approach the PlayBook from a developer’s point of view but given that the product has been such a disappointment, it’s difficult to see a future in which the PlayBook still exists. RIM is promising PlayBook OS version 2 to arrive in February and is actually going to show something at CES next week.
Whether the combination of PlayBook OS 2.0 and the heavy discount across the board will spur sales isn’t a guarantee and all signs seem to be pointing to no.
As far as the tablet market is concerned, right now there isn’t one. Android tablets only make up 3% of all Android activations and the webOS-powered Touchpad is dead. That leaves the iPad as the only tablet that’s making progress in the market. Of course, the story has yet to end. Apple has had the upper hand this past two years but there’s no guarantee that nobody will take that crown from Cupertino a few years down the road.
RIM is battling not just lack of sales and mindshare, but also relevance and solvency. The company’s share price has been dwindling since 2008. It hasn’t had any break through product in a long time, it’s market share of the BlackBerry has been falling. Its profits had also been cut quarter after quarter.
On the upside, Venture Beat noted that in the December quarter, RIM still has 75 million customers, its sales went up 33% from the previous quarter, revenues were also up nearly 25%. It may still have one last shot at the mobile computing market to ensure its survival beyond 2012.