RIM’s PlayBook is without a doubt, one of the most misunderstood and under-appreciated devices ever launched.
From its poorly planned debut and lacklustre feature set, to the dearth of available apps (compared to other platforms) and a lack of cellular data at launch, the PlayBook has had a rough ride.
But RIM isn’t giving up on the PlayBook – as evidenced by the newest 4G/LTE version – and neither should folks who want to use their tablet for work and play.
Despite its shortcomings, which incidentally are fewer and fewer as time goes by, the BlackBerry PlayBook possesses two features that make it unique in the tablet landscape. One of those features is the ability to tether your BlackBerry smartphone to the PlayBook, giving you full access to your BlackBerry’s features but on a much bigger screen.
The second is BlackBerry Balance. Balance lets you create a complete separation between work and personal tasks on the PlayBook, a truly outstanding feature that neither Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android platforms have been able to deliver.
Sure, you can enable parental controls on these devices, but these restrictions disable apps completely instead of creating a virtual wall between work and personal apps. It’s the baby-sitter or nanny approach to control.
With BlackBerry Balance, once you’ve indicated that you want to create a “work” container, you can lock the Messages, Contacts, Calendar and Work Browser with a single password. Once locked, these applications are no longer accessible, but the rest of the tablet’s apps remain available – even a secondary instance of the web browser for personal browsing.
This ability to put all of your sensitive work-related info behind a locked door is a boon to families and anyone else who finds that their tablet ends up being passed from one person to another. RIM’s realization that our tablets – even more than our phones – are becoming shared devices, is a brilliant insight.
It’s not without flaws, however. The first being that in order to use BlackBerry Balance, you need to connect your PlayBook to an enterprise email account which is running RIM’s proprietary software on the back-end. If you just use a blackberry.net email address, or a POP email account like the one give to you by your ISP, the feature isn’t available to you.
Balance also plays somewhat heavy-handedly with your locked apps. For instance, if you have a work account and a personal account set up in the Messages app, once locked, you can’t access either. RIM needs to (and claims to have plans to) find a way to only lock that which is work-related, leaving all personal data accessible.
These limitations notwithstanding, BlackBerry Balance is easily the most compelling and unique feature on the PlayBook. I doubt it will be long before Google and Apple catch up, but in the meantime, RIM has a killer app on their hands.
At a time when the company is holding its breath for the next 4-5 months until it can release the promised line of BlackBerry 10 devices, it needs all of the help it can get.
The new 4G LTE PlayBook launched by RIM yesterday, with all three major carriers, is essentially the same PlayBook the company released a little over a year ago. To say this is a “new” PlayBook would be overstating things. Other than the 4G/LTE cellular data connection option indicated in the model’s name, the only difference is the processor, which received a modest speed bump from 1 GHZ to 1.5 GHZ.
Literally everything else about the 7″ tablet remains the same. Even the box it ships in.
So you’d think that this slightly updated PlayBook would be priced in-line with the non-LTE versions you can find on store shelves today i.e. $229 for a 32GB model. Nope, not even close.
Turns out the 4G/LTE PlayBook, which only comes in the 32GB capacity so far, retails at most carriers for the astonishing price of $549 without a contract.
Let that sink in for a moment…
If you want a PlayBook with 4G/LTE connectivity and a slightly faster processor, you’ll be shelling out an additional $320, or put another way, 139% more.
Just to be clear, this is not an indictment of the tablet itself. The PlayBook, while still under-appreciated by much of the tech media, and certainly not a fan-favourite with consumers, in nonetheless a very good tablet. To see how well it has aged, check out Marc Saltzman’s comparison between the PlayBook and the brand-new Google Nexus 7. The addition of 4G/LTE is a really great option – much like other 4G/LTE devices, it absolutely blazes along. In downtown Toronto at mid-day (peak network usage time) I was able to get speeds of 35Mbps download and 5Mbps upload. Not too shabby.
But poor sales numbers forced RIM to heavily discount all models of the PlayBook, thus changing the landscape dramatically. No longer were we to compare the PlayBook to its larger and more expensive competitor – the iPad. Instead, especially here in Canada where the Kindle Fire isn’t on sale, we now see the PlayBook as a great alternative for people who don’t want an ereader and a tablet – the PlayBook is small enough and inexpensive enough to be both (precisely the territory Google is hoping to exploit with the $209 Nexus 7).
All of which means, unfortunately for RIM, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.
There is no world now, in which a 32GB PlayBook with 4G/LTE is worth $549.
The very most RIM can expect to people to pay for this mobile speed premium is $130 – the same price difference that Apple slaps on all 4G/LTE versions of the iPad – which means a new 4G/LTE PlayBook should actually cost $359. Coincidentally (or perhaps not) that is exactly $10 more than the 3-year term subsidized price of the new PlayBook: $349.
Now, I know there are folks out there who will point out that even at $549, the 4G/LTE PlayBook is still $100 cheaper than a comparably equipped 16GB iPad which only has half the storage. That’s absolutely correct. But don’t forget, Apple’s latest iPad is a technological tour-de-force with a screen resolution unmatched by any tablet. And even if comparisons to the iPad were meaningful (they aren’t at this point in time), it can’t change the fact that RIM’s own discounting of the original PlayBook has created this unfavourable situation.
RIM, expecting the backlash from the 4G/LTE pricing, has decided to throw the carriers under the bus. “RIM works closely with its carrier partners on its product launches. Pricing, plans and contracts are determined by the carrier,” according to RIM’s agency, Brodeur Partners of New York.
This seemingly out-of-touch-with-reality pricing might be, in some twisted way, RIM’s way of getting you to buy a BlackBerry. I know, sounds wacky, but hear me out:
For $99 on a 3-year contract, you can get RIM’s range-topping Bold 9900 4G. It may not have LTE speeds, but it’s still a great device for productivity. And because the PlayBook’s biggest draw for BlackBerry owners is the ability to tether the two devices seamlessly, sharing one data connection, you could pick up a 32GB non-4G/LTE PlayBook for $229. Since you’ll already be paying for the monthly carrier charges on the Bold, there’s no need to pay again just to provide the PlayBook with its own data connection.
If RIM still has a surplus of PlayBooks it’s trying to get rid of, which the current pricing seems to confirm, this strategy might make sense: in giving people lots of incentive to buy BlackBerrys and PlayBooks together instead of just PlayBooks on their own, the company addresses two problems at once – getting rid of their soon-to-be-obsolete BlackBerrys and surplus PlayBooks.
It’s a long-shot, to be sure, but these days – sadly – everything about RIM is looking like a long-shot.
I like the PlayBook. Especially at its current $200 price point for 16GB. Everyone I’ve spoken to who owns one still enjoys using it and has no regrets. But I can’t get behind a $320 premium for 4G/LTE connectivity, the value simply isn’t there.
The first Canadian location for the high-end European design marque that takes its pedigree from the legendary sports car manufacturer, will open in Toronto on June 14th.
Beyond giving Bloor Street shoppers access to an exclusive collection of sunglasses, footwear and even tobacco pipes (people still smoke these things??) Porsche Design will be the only place in Canada where you can pick up the most expensive BlackBerry ever created: the somewhat blandly-named P’9981.
If this sounds familiar it’s because RIM actually debuted the angular smartphone months ago to a much more discerning crowd in Dubai.
At the time, I was irked by the Canadian company’s decision to ignore its home town (loosely speaking) instead choosing to go half way around the world to introduce their new gadget. But in hindsight, maybe it was the right decision. Given that the Porsche Design P’9981 retails for a cool
$2,000 $1,800 you can’t blame RIM for wanting to test the product with a group of people who think nothing of spending that kind of cash (and more) on a single night in a hotel.
I’m no more convinced that RIM can justify the price on the P’9981 now than I was then, but it seems like now is an especially bad time for the company to be putting the focus on a high-end BlackBerry when clearly, a much different strategy is needed.
But hey, if you have an extra two grand lying around, and you’re in Toronto on June 14th, why not drop by 77 Bloor St. West – it will be the one place you can pick up the BlackBerry that is a guaranteed collector’s item: It will either be the last model before the company springs back from one of the worst chapters in tech history, or it will be a flashy reminder of the company that once had the tech world by the horns.
Unless you’ve been sticking with the same CD collection you’ve owned since the 90s, or you’re one of the hardcore vinyl-collecting crowd, odds are good that most of your music is now sitting in MP3 or AAC format on your PC, MP3 player or smartphone. And while each of these devices are great for organizing your tunes and listening to them privately, they lack the group-listening vibe afforded by our stereos, boomboxes and home theatre systems. Fortunately, there’s never been a better time to widen your music’s horizons. Here are three ways you can get into the wireless streaming game so that you can enjoy your music wherever you are in your home and on any existing audio device.
1. RIM BlackBerry Music Gateway ($50)This tiny black module is the absolute cheapest and easiest way to get your digital music to flow through the speakers of your choice. As long as your music is stored on a smartphone or other device that is Bluetooth 2.0 (A2DP) compatible, you can pair it to the Music Gateway and then connect the Gateway to your home stereo using the included mini-jack audio cable. The Gateway needs power but you can use the same Micro-USB cable and AC adapter that you use to recharge your phone. The music is controlled straight from your smartphone. Bonus: If you own an NFC-equipped BlackBerry such as the new Bold 9900, you can skip the Bluetooth pairing process by simply tapping the phone to the Gateway – voila! Instant streaming. Keep in mind however, that Bluetooth streaming isn’t as flexible as Wi-Fi. Bluetooth typically maxes out at 10 m (30 feet) whereas Wi-Fi can often extend up to 300 feet, particularly when used outside.
2. Apple Airport Express Base Station ($99)The Airport Express might just be Apple’s best kept secret. This all-white unit, which is about the size and shape of a deck of cards is deceptively simple: A plug for AC power, an ethernet port, USB port and an analog/optical mini-jack. But the list of things it can do is impressive. Most relevant to this discussion is that it can turn any stereo system into a Wi-Fi (or wired) receiver for your iTunes music whether you keep that collection on your Mac, PC or iOS device. Apple’s AirPlay technology which recognizes the AirPort Express on your home network, treats the Base Station as a set of speakers that you can “push” your music to from your iTunes software.
Want to stream your music to multiple stereos? Simply add more AirPort Express Base Stations. Each one can be labeled according to whatever makes sense e.g. “Living Room”, “Kitchen” etc. and if you’re streaming from a PC or Mac, you can have them all receiving the music simultaneously. Each AirPort Express can be muted or volume-controlled from your computer, but it’s way cooler to do it remotely using your iOS device with Apple’s free “Remote” app. Want to stream from your iOS device instead? Again, each AirPort Express will show up as AirPlay devices in any app that supports AirPlay e.g. CBC’s Music app. The AirPort Express has some other cool features up its sleeve beyond music streaming: it can repeat the Wi-Fi signal from an Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station, giving your Wi-Fi greater reach; it can act as stand-alone wireless router when connected to your DSL/Cable modem via ethernet or if you’re in a hotel room with only wired internet access and finally it can act as a print server when a printer is connected to the USB port – now everyone on your network can print to the same printer.
3. Sonos Play:3 ($329) plus Sonos Bridge ($60) Long before Apple started to hype their AirPlay technology, Sonos was inventing the gold standard for wireless home audio. The company has been refining their very successful formula for years now and they’re still the company to beat when it comes to liberating your music. Every Sonos system starts with their $60 Bridge. It doesn’t look like much and it only does one thing: create the SonosNet proprietary wireless network, and allow Sonos devices to access online sources of content. From there however, Sonos users have unparalleled choice. You can buy Sonos Connect receivers that connect directly to your stereos or other powered speakers. Or, you can buy a more powerful Connect Amp which as the name implies, houses an amplifier so you can attach virtually any pair of bookshelf speakers. Or, if you want a more portable solution, their Play:3 and Play:5 speaker systems are all-in-one sound systems combining a wireless receiver, amp and speakers. N.B.: You don’t actually need to buy the Bridge as long as you’re ok with positioning the Play:3 in a location where you can wire it to your router with ethernet cable. In this situation, the Play:3 can create the SonosNet network and act as the Bridge on behalf of the other Sonos devices in your home.
While more expensive than Apple’s AirPlay scenario, Sonos offers more options too: Each Sonos unit can be individually controlled even letting you choose to stream the same or different music sources to each device. You can also access far more content – in addition to your iTunes collection, you can access subscription services like XM radio, Slacker, LastFM and others. Another plus is that if you keep all of your music on a Network Attached Storage device (NAS) you don’t need your computer to be constantly on to get to your music. Sonos can access it directly. Finally, some Sonos devices can be used as AirPlay devices, as long as you buy an AirPort Express and your Sonos component has line-in support (N.B.: The Play:3 is NOT equipped with line-in). Once connected and configured, the AirPort Express that is connected to your Sonos device will show up as an AirPlay speaker on your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad.
The entire Sonos network of gear can be controlled from any Android or iOS device through the free downloadable app. Sonos used to make a dedicated controller, but apparently the market for these dried up once people began buying app-driven gadgets. No surprise – you can pick up an 8GB iPod Touch for less than the Sonos controller and you can play Angry Birds!
Now that RIM has managed to sell a decent amount of their BlackBerry PlayBook tablets, it’s time for something a little different.
Check out their newest addition to the PlayBook line of accessories: the BlackBerry Mini Keyboard. It’s roughly the same size as the PlayBook itself, it has a 30-day battery life and can be recharged from any Micro-USB connection including the one that shipped with the PlayBook, and it connects via Bluetooth.
And none of those specs are a reason to buy this $119 keyboard, which by the way, ships with that stylish case pictured above.
No, the real reason you’re going to want this keyboard is the integrated touchpad placed right below the space bar. This one feature not only make using the PlayBook for productivity much better than the tablet on its own, it might just make it the PlayBook the best productivity tablet on the market, period. I say this of course without every having tried the device, but if the description from RIM is accurate, this is the rare exception when an accessory dramatically improves the functionality of the original device.
Consider: The touch pad enables full mouse control when using an app called Citrix Receiver – designed to connect you to a remote Windows machine so you can have complete remote-control of that desktop. This means you can move the PC’s cursor, click by tapping, right-click by two-finger tapping and scroll vertically by swiping up and down on the pad with two fingers.
The result is that, unlike using bluetooth keyboards with the iPad, you no longer have to reach for the PlayBook’s screen when you want to interact with an on-screen element. Basically, it turns the PlayBook into a proper laptop replacement, at least from an ergonomics point of view. The trackpad even works when navigating the PlayBook’s homescreens and apps.
The BlackBerry Mini Keyboard goes on sale next month for $119, but you can pre-order it now from The Source and save yourself $20.
You’ve got to hand it to the guys and gals at CrackBerry.com – they’re on a roll. First they publish some leaked photos of the as-yet-unannounced BlackBerry Superphone codenamed “London”, and now they’ve posted some similarly leaked photos of the next OS that will power the make-it-or-break-it devices from RIM.
Makes you wonder if these “leaks” are leaks at all, or a clever guerilla marketing effort designed to create some buzz for the beleaguered tech giant.
It makes sense if you think about it: Given all of the negative press RIM has received as of late, it certainly can’t do any harm to let it slip out that it is indeed working toward a new and improved hardware and software system if only to give some hope to those thinking of jumping ship.
And in a best-case scenario, the company can use the informal feedback from reader comments and blogger reactions to gauge whether they’re on the right track or need to do some last-minute course-corrections. I know that’s certainly not how Apple would go about product development, but RIM can’t claim (unlike Apple) that they have an innate sense of what the user wants before the user knows (or at least it’s been a long time since RIM has shown this prescience).
You can see all of the leaked shots over at CrackBerry.com and make up your mind if you think BB 10 is headed in the right direction. My initial reaction is yes, I like what I see. There’s no question the new UI borrows heavily from iOS, but then again so did Android. Some things just work. But RIM has also borrowed from Android too with the homescreen widgets concept, demonstrating what Steve Jobs was once quoted as saying: “Great artists steal”.
If this phone had been built by anyone other than RIM we might be reading about it in glowing terms with words like “sleek”, “elegant” and “sophisticated” being used to describe it.
But poor RIM can do nothing right these days it seems, even when it partners with iconic design house, Porsche Design.
What you’re looking at is the latest addition to an already crowded BlackBerry model line-up, the P’9981. But don’t worry, you aren’t likely going to see too many of them in stores or even on the street, unless that street is Yorkville Avenue in Toronto or Rodeo Drive in L.A. That’s because the Porsche Design P’9981 is not for you and I. It’s for people who are willing to spend a lot of money for something exclusive, even if there isn’t a shred of new technology under the hood. Because despite the re-worked exterior, the P’9981 is basically just a Bold 9900 in every other respect. RIM doesn’t plan to sell the P’9981 through any of the usual channels, opting instead for the exclusivity of Porsche Design stores. How exclusive is that you ask? Well, let’s just say that if you’re Canadian, it requires some cross-border shopping.
And again, if this had been built by VERTU, a luxury phone maker owned by Nokia, or perhaps a Korean company looking to do something special for the Asian market, no one would bat an eye. But we’re talking about RIM. A company that has had serious network outages, slipping market share, a poorly received tablet, a new operating system that has no launch date and a music service that has yet to see the light of day. So naturally, people hate this new handset.
I disagree. I’m not enthralled by the price – in fact I think it’s completely unjustified. But this BlackBerry is a thing of beauty. I’ve long been a fan of the Porsche Design team and their various products (everything from pens to coffee makers) and the P’9981 is unmistakably Porsche. From its super-clean lines to its flush, full-width glass screen and the all-stainless look – it’s sexy.
So what baffles me about the product is not so much the price (ludicrous) or people’s reaction to it (predictable) – it’s the way RIM chose to tell the world about it. Sorry let me re-phrase: the way they chose NOT to tell the world. At least not the North American press.
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Try to find an article on this phone in the major media from Canada or the U.S. and you’ll come up with little or nothing. Why would a Canadian company like RIM go out of its way to exclude Canadian media from this product launch?
Was it an oversight? I doubt it. Were they experimenting with the power of a virally-driven launch to see if it would get better coverage than a conventional press release? Nah.
I think RIM is embarrassed by the P’9981 and were kind of hoping that no one over here would notice. Which is why the launch of the phone took place in Dubai. A place that is nearly half a world away from Canada geographically, and in an entirely different universe economically.
Is the midst of one of the worst recessions in memory the right time to launch a phone for the uber-elite? Is now the right time in RIM’s history to be focused on style over substance? No. It isn’t.
Is the P’9981’s conspicuous excess a sign that RIM has lost what focus it once had, or is it merely another bump in an already pot-hole ridden highway?
Perhaps RIM should have asked Porsche for a Cayenne instead of a P’9981. They could do with a little extra clearance.
To say that it’s been a tough year for RIM is an understatement.
Their BlackBerry PlayBook met with poor reviews on launch largely due to the absence of an email client and a near-non-existent app store.
Their aging fleet of BlackBerry handsets have seen their once dominant market position erode significantly due to pressure from Apple’s iPhone and the horde of Android smartphones that have entered the market this year.
Their shareholders are openingly questioning if the company should be split up and the co-CEOs replaced.
Last week, the company suffered one of its worst network outages ever, affecting millions of its customers worldwide.
And to top it all off, despite a late-year refresh to the company’s flagship models, the QNX-based handsets that are meant to be the company’s future, are still nowhere to be seen.
Yeah, it’s been a tough year.
But there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon, and today at 8:30 AM PST, co-CEO Mike Lazaridis will take the stage at BlackBerry DevCon in San Francisco to tell the world about what’s next for RIM.
According to an interview given to the National Post’s Matt Hartley by RIM’s other co-CEO Jim Balsillie, the company will have “leapfrogged everyone with what we’re announcing [on Tuesday] and you’re going to see it on display.”
Big words, especially given that general speculation is that no new hardware will be part of today’s announcement, leaving us to wonder if this brave new world is more about RIM’s network and software platforms than about creating more competitive devices.
You can watch the Lazaridis keynote as a live webcast.
Details are slim, but according to a report on BGR, Collins Stewart analyst John Vinh has reason to believe that Research In Motion is no longer making any new BlackBerry PlayBooks and intends to exit the tablet market completely.
Here’s the quote from Vinh:
While Quanta last week acknowledged that it had laid off a significant number of production workers from a factory focused on producing the PlayBook, our research indicates that the ODM has essentially halted production of the tablet. Additionally, our due diligence indicates that RIMM has canceled development of additional tablet projects.
We’re a little shocked to hear this, especially given our recent post asking why the PlayBook isn’t selling better than it is, but times being what they are we can’t say we’re totally surprised. After watching HP fold their TouchPad tablet after only a few weeks of worse-than-expected sales, it may simply be that RIM has lost its appetite for a market segment that has failed to yield the results it was hoping for.
Could RIM actually be planning to halt the PlayBook? Yes.
In recent days we’ve seen retailers slash prices on the gadget and layer on additional incentives for buying one – once again raising the specter of the TouchPad which went through its own series of price cuts before ultimately being given the fire-sale treatment. These price drops will not sit well with RIM. The company is used to selling its devices for healthy profits and then making additional dollars on the enterprise software side to manage those devices. The PlayBook never really capitalized on this ecosystem the way the BlackBerry handsets do.
But this should all be taken with a grain of salt. After all, only yesterday RIM announced how it was planning to support the promised compatibility with Android apps on the PlayBook. And while that announcement disappointed many developers given the features RIM had decided not to support, it was nonetheless a signal that things were still moving ahead as far as the PlayBook platform was concerned.
RIM has responded to Vinh’s report with the following email:
RIM doesn’t typically comment on rumors, but any suggestion that the BlackBerry PlayBook is being discontinued is pure fiction. RIM remains highly committed to the tablet market.
We don’t have much on this, so it could all turn out to be horribly wrong, but if Will Robertson is right, it looks like Sears Canada will begin taking pre-orders for the BlackBerry PlayBook tomorrow, with shipping to follow on April 10th. As unusual as it seems for Sears of all places to be getting the jump on a hot gadget like the PlayBook, Robertson appears to have received an affiliate program email from them claiming that they will have it and that he should let his readers know.
Sadly, there’s no pricing attached to that email. I guess we’ll just have to wait.
So if you’ve already decided that the iPad 2 and the Motorola Xoom hold no interest for you and the PlayBook is the tablet to have, it may be worthwhile to check out Sears.ca when you wake up tomorrow.
Update, Mar 12: Looks like it was horribly wrong after all. No sign of a pre-order on Sears.ca and Will Robertson’s original post has been updated to say “date is unconfirmed, hope it comes out soon, I can’t wait to get one.” That’s because Sears slipped up and sent that first email by mistake. Check out their back-peddle:
***Playbook Correction Notice ***
Please note that the information about the Playbook launch dates is incorrect. While Sears Canada will be selling the Playbook, the date that pre-ordering starts and the date that the Playbook will be available for sale are not yet confirmed.
Please remove any reference to the Playbook date immediately as they are not endorsed by Sears Canada
We apologize for any inconvenience and look forward to sharing Playbook order dates as they become available.
And in case you missed it, here’s our tablet round-up… er, minus the iPad 2…