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…
One thing’s for sure: Android has become the de-facto operating system for every manufacturer looking to market a tablet device this year (other than Apple). There was one notable exception however, and it came in the form of RIM’s 7-inch PlayBook – a device that runs a brand new OS from QNX and which RIM claims is the only example of “true” multi-tasking in the tablet world. Will it be enough to beat the iPad and Motorola’s recently hailed Xoom?
It’s here – the device long dubbed the “BlackPad” by industry watchers and it’s name is the BlackBerry PlayBook. But most people are now calling it the iPad for enterprise.
It has a multi-touch 7″ screen which runs at a typical netbook resolution of 1024×600 and is supported by a 1Ghz dual-core processor and a custom OS (powered by QNX, who RIM purchased earlier) which can run Flash – a big issue for people who have held off buying an iPad for it’s lack of support for this widely-used web content type.
The other area where the iPad disappointed but that newcomers to the field have been quick to improve on is the integration of webcams. The PlayBook sports two of them – one forward and on rear-facing and both support HD resolutions.
It can run a variety of different media codecs for playback, and though you won’t able to see full-HD on the 7″ screen, the addition of a mini-HDMI port means that if you connect it to an HD-capable display, the PlayBook should serve very nicely as a platform for movies and perhaps more importantly, given the focus on business, slide-shows.
Finally, the presence of a mini-USB port will go a long way to appease those who felt the iPad should have had this feature at launch. Interestingly, unlike the iPad, there is no 3G version of the PlayBook – at least for now. Instead, RIM is thinking that you will most likely pair the PlayBook to your regular BlackBerry which will give you 3G and a host of other features – an aspect of the device they call “device pairing”. Once paired, you’ll have access to all of your email, calendar, contacts etc.
Alas, no word on price just yet, but it’s a safe bet RIM won’t target too far from the range that Apple has established for the iPad.
Video below. So readers, is this the tablet you’ve been waiting for?
We don’t have all the details yet regarding full carrier availability, but for those who are anxious to get their hands on RIM’s latest toy, here’s what we do know:
TELUS, Rogers and Bell Mobility are planning to launch the device on September 24th.(see update below) TELUS isn’t offering any rate plan info yet, but Bell and Rogers have said that it will be available for as low at $199 on a 3-year contract. It’s likely that TELUS will offer something similar.
No word yet on which of the other carriers (Virgin, Fido etc.)
The $199 (see update below) price point is a bit of a surprise given that the iPhone 4 is available for $159 on a similar three-year term and actually comes with more memory out of the box (16GB) than the Torch (combined 8GB). However there is a massive untapped group of users out there who refuse to give up their BlackBerrys – especially the physical keyboard – and are desperate for a modern mobile browser which the Torch certainly delivers.
Marc was impressed but not blown away by the Torch’s specs, and suspects that it’s a case of too little too late. Now that I see the pricing, I’m wondering if it’s going to be a case of too little, too late and too pricey. But that, as they say, remains to be seen since very few people have actually had a chance to try out RIM’s first slider-touchscreen phone.
Update, September 24th: Okay, well here we are on the day that the Torch was supposed to launch here in Canada, but clearly that hasn’t happened. The good news is that all of the carriers have now gotten official with a new date (September 30th) but more importantly, a new price: $179 on a 3-year contract. Now that’s still a premium on the price of a base-model iPhone 4, but only by $20. I’ve had the Torch for just under a week now, and while my initial impressions are good, I think it’s going to be a hard sell if RIM is looking to convert any iPhone users to their platform. Stay tuned, we’ll publish our full impressions soon!
When Steve Jobs now famously declared “We’re not perfect“, he was referring to the fact that despite their tremendous success over the past few years since launching the original iPhone, Apple can still make mistakes.
If he had left it at that, it’s likely that Friday’s press conference would have been seen as an appropriate demonstration of humility on the part of a company that had released a product which if nothing else, has a flaw that turned out to be bigger issue than expected. Most observers would likely have concluded that indeed, no one is perfect, and that Apple’s offer of a free case was the right thing to do, assuming that they would follow this measure up with more due-diligence to determine if the antenna problem had affected all of their iPhone 4’s or simply a small batch.
Unfortunately, Jobs elected to follow up his statement with a declaration that all smartphones to a greater or lesser degree, suffer the same problems as the iPhone. In essence, “We’re not perfect” became “We’re not perfect, and by the way, neither are our competitors”. It looked as though Apple had committed the classic mistake of trying to lessen the focus on their mistakes by pointing the finger at someone else. If this were a schoolyard squabble you could imagine Jobs saying to a teacher “Yeah, well I know I started the fight, but Johnny started a fight last week – why don’t you punish him too?”
Jobs cited RIM, Samsung and HTC’s smartphones as just as vulnerable to antenna problems when held in a certain way. He even showed some videos demonstrating what that looked like.
As you might expect, it hasn’t taken long for the companies that were dragged into the fight (and even one that wasn’t) to respond to Apple’s condemnation of an entire industry.
Gizmodo is reporting that Samsung has this to say following Apple’s demonstration of a reception-impaired Omnia 2 smartphone:
“The antenna is located at the bottom of the Omnia 2 phone, while iPhone’s antenna is on the lower left side of the device. Our design keeps the distance between a hand and an antenna. We have fully conducted field tests before the rollout of smartphones. Reception problems have not happened so far, and there is no room for such problems to happen in the future”
The message to Apple is clear: Go ahead and defend your product, but don’t implicate our product when you do it.
RIM was far more direct in their reaction, not mincing any words:
“Apple’s attempt to draw RIM into Apple’s self-made debacle is unacceptable. Apple’s claims about RIM products appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public’s understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple’s difficult situation. RIM is a global leader in antenna design and has been successfully designing industry-leading wireless data products with efficient and effective radio performance for over 20 years. During that time, RIM has avoided designs like the one Apple used in the iPhone 4 and instead has used innovative designs which reduce the risk for dropped calls, especially in areas of lower coverage. One thing is for certain, RIM’s customers don’t need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity. Apple clearly made certain design decisions and it should take responsibility for these decisions rather than trying to draw RIM and others into a situation that relates specifically to Apple.”
And somewhat suprisingly, Nokia, who wasn’t mentioned by name in Apple’s press conference, felt the need to make a few clarifying statements lest anyone think that their products suffer from Apple’s “Smartphones have weak spots” remark:
“Antenna design is a complex subject and has been a core competence at Nokia for decades, across hundreds of phone models. Nokia was the pioneer in internal antennas; the Nokia 8810, launched in 1998, was the first commercial phone with this feature.
Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying human behavior, including how people hold their phones for calls, music playing, web browsing and so on. As you would expect from a company focused on connecting people, we prioritize antenna performance over physical design if they are ever in conflict.
In general, antenna performance of a mobile device/phone may be affected with a tight grip, depending on how the device is held. That’s why Nokia designs our phones to ensure acceptable performance in all real life cases, for example when the phone is held in either hand. Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying how people hold their phones and allows for this in designs, for example by having antennas both at the top and bottom of the phone and by careful selection of materials and their use in the mechanical design.”
One thing’s for sure: we haven’t heard the last of “Antennagate” whether Apple recognizes it as a problem or not.