A dubious debut

RIM’s PlayBook tablet launched to mixed reviews and plenty of doubters. But so did the iPad.

A dubious debut

Andrew Vaughan/CP

The official launch of Research In Motion’s PlayBook device in New York City, on April 15, didn’t muster the same international media blitz that accompanied the debut of Apple’s iPad a year ago. But the two events shared one thing in common—both sparked a fierce backlash over what the tablet makers failed to include.

As it stands, the PlayBook doesn’t come with email, contacts or calendar programs. Those applications can be accessed by wirelessly bridging the PlayBook to a BlackBerry smartphone, thus extending RIM’s airtight security features. But those without a BlackBerry must use online services, or wait for a promised update later this year. There were also complaints that PlayBook users have access to just 3,000 tailored apps, versus 65,000 for the iPad. The Wall Street Journal tech reviewer Walt Mossberg called the PlayBook “a tablet with a case of codependency,” and said he couldn’t recommend the device to anyone but “folks whose BlackBerrys never leave their sides.”

It didn’t help that just days before the launch, RIM’s co-CEO Mike Lazaridis walked out of an interview with the BBC because he was angry over the reporter’s questions. A Google News search for “Lazaridis and BBC” turned up nearly half as many hits as “Playbook and launch” for the past week.

RIM has a lot riding on the PlayBook. Investors and analysts worry about the company’s ability to keep pace with Apple and Google, which supplies its Android operating system to other tablet makers. Nevertheless, Jeff Kvaal, a technology analyst with Barclays Capital, is optimistic RIM will sell at least three million PlayBooks in the first fiscal year. And remember, when the first iPad launched, it had plenty of doubters. For one thing, it didn’t have a camera, and some claimed the iPad was doomed. Instead, Apple has already sold 15 million units. The PlayBook may never come close to matching the iPad in sales. But it’s probably also too soon to close the book on it either.

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