With PC sales dropping like a rock and many of us pointing the finger at the iPad (which still has lines of folks waiting to buy it) and every Android tablet so far only setting return records, a lot of us are wondering if there is a tablet market or just an iPad market.
Next up is the RIM PlayBook and its theme song should likely be the reverse of the "Dance: 10; Looks: 3" song from the musical "A Chorus Line." And given the corporate market the RIM tablet targets, I doubt that RIM will have better luck than that character in "A Chorus Line" who said, "and I'm still on unemployment, dancing for my own enjoyment." It's all getting kind of sad.
Let's look at the PlayBook and talk a bit about why company after company is repeating the iPod, yes, iPod, mistake and not making the cut.
On hardware, industrial design and even user experience, the PlayBook is a hit in my opinion. It is arguably better at multitasking than the iPad. It is smaller, which allows RIM to argue that it is more portable and, thus, more useful for people who need to actually do work, and it sports a competitive level of hardware. On spec it is attractive, cute and portable.
But can it dance?
Maybe the question should be: Can it walk? That's because it dances like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. No, that's unfair to Steve because Steve can at least walk. The tablet is worthless without a BlackBerry phone.
Now recall the initial Zune: Remember its key feature was that you could share music but only with another Zune-meaning you had to have at least two for that to be an advantage? Remember how well that worked out? So if you don't have a BlackBerry right from the start, this is a non-starter.
Currently, we estimate that over 80 percent of BlackBerry phones are bought by companies, which means that the majority of consumers aren't going to be interested in this tablet. Now, currently, the iPad is a consumer-only event. Even in companies, while there are a few trials, it is the employee who is buying the product and bringing it into the workplace. Now if that employee has a phone the company bought for him, as opposed to one he bought himself, how likely is he to buy a $500 tablet accessory for it, as opposed to an employee who has an iPhone or an Android phone and now wants an iPad.
Think about it. What is the most expensive accessory you bought for your company laptop? History suggests that if the company bought it, folks won't spend more than $50 on accessories and, even then, will try to expense them. Try to expense a wireless headset, then try to imagine expensing a $500 tablet.
Finally, folks want apps and video content on their tablets. They aren't just mobile browsers. The PlayBook doesn't even have a native email client, let alone any compelling native applications and it won't run existing BlackBerry applications. It will eventually run Android applications but, oh wait, not the ones designed to run on Android 3.0, which is the tablet version of Android.
Personally, I think they should fire the entire RIM executive team and start over.
So What Happened?
Here is what is going on. First, none of the tablet makers seem to get that Apple has created something that is closer to a game console than a PC. In other words, increasingly the company is making its money from royalties on the applications and accessories, which allows them to subsidize the price of the iPad. That pretty much knocks out the Android platform (by the way Google just picked up the nickname "Parasitic Monster" ) because only Google can do this and it isn't sharing revenue and is using standard interfaces even though, apparently, it ripped off Apple (read "In the Plex"). Now that does suggest that RIM, HP and anyone else doing their own platform is on a better path, but only if they bring out a complete system.
Recall that in the gaming console market, Sony passed Nintendo by providing a vastly better set of games and better performance. Sony got passed by Nintendo when it created a different user experience with the Wii, and Microsoft eventually took over the lead by taking that interface to the next level (Kinect) and with stronger gaming titles. Nobody won in that space by bringing out a better console and a shortage of good games, though a number of companies, like NEC and Sega, tried.
So, just like it was with many of the players in the initial gaming console wars, manufacturers are thinking that this battle is about hardware and not experience. The end result is that we seem to be getting product after product that looks interesting but isn't compelling and the Apple folks get even bigger grins. So to do well in the tablet space you need baseline capability, you need to match Apple in revenue sources (or break Apple's model), you need good hardware, you need baseline capability like email, video and browsing, you need strong demand generation (marketing) AND you need some great unique content that people want. You can't pick the one or two things you want to do and forget the rest.
Or for the RIM folks, they should call up Bill Engvall because he has a sign for them.
Another week, another lame tablet by another company that doesn't get that you can't be successful with an incomplete product. If you aren't going to play to win, what the heck is the point in playing at all? RIM's CEO is freaking out at the moment as he does the Sarah Palin thing and goes to war against the media. This suggests the company really needs new leadership and, until it gets it, it will remain on the path to become the next Palm.
Maybe Oracle or Cisco will buy them. Hey, at least Apple is happy.