RIM is passing through harsh times. The Canadian device maker, famous for its smartphones packed with full QWERTY keyboards has seen better days. After widening its horizons and choosing to sell full touchscreen devices, RIM has also pursued the way of tablets but unfortunately that hasn’t changed its grim fate. The latest rumors speak of a second generation slate that will soon be developed by the company, one which may actually lay some weight on the balance and generate a nice income.

RIM and PlayBook tablets, the controversial story

When RIM first entered the tablet game, most critics out there could not find a place for the Canadian vendor in this market. The first PlayBook tablet was a rectangular device with its own operating system (PlayBook OS), a fast dual-core processor for those times and a bright screen that offered 1080 HD video playback, all for a cheap price. Actually, the technical specifications list goes like this:


  • Dimensions: 194x130x10 mm
  • Weight: 425 grams
  • Display: 7-inch TFT capacitive touchscreen with 170 PPI pixel density and a nice 600 x 1024 resolution
  • Memory: 1GB of RAM and 16/32/64 GB of onboard storage, no SD cards permitted
  • Camera: 5MP primary, 3MP secondary
  • Processor: Dual-core Cortex A9 clocked at 1 GHz with a TI OMAP 4430 chipset
  • Battery: Li-Po 5300 mAh

To be more precise, the tablet was announced in the last quarter of 2010 and it hit the market around April, 2011, next to other tablets such as the Galaxy Tab 7 (launched in October 2010), the iPad 2 (in March 2011) and later on the Kindle Touch.

Early reviews of the slate were mixed, some reporting that although the hardware integrated was fairly good, lots of features were missing. The customized OS held to few applications and its interface was too crowded, while the tablet itself offers a small screen for some content devourers and a weak battery. On the other side, people like Zach Epstein of BGR inspired readers with its opinions, claiming that the PlayBook slate has enough applications to cover all grounds, it’s great for browsing the web and even puts other tablets to “shame” when using it as an eReader.

How about the design

I personally believe the design to be an important factor when choosing a tablet, right next to its size, but when it came to its looks, the BlackBerry PlayBook was no eye catching device. Standing next to the curves of the Galaxy Tab and the aluminum body of the iPad 2, RIM’s slate looked cheaply made at the first sight, although it wasn’t actually like that.

Although the iPad came with an aluminum thin case, the metal is hard and its edges are sharp, especially for a device that needs to be constantly shifted. On the other side, the PlayBook was soft and its squared edges sat well in hand, offering the user a nice overall experience. But these kinds of remarks are not seen in an online presentation, you need to actually test it to feel it. And that’s how the PlayBook decayed right from the start.

Numbers, all that counts

In the first quarter of sales approximately 500,000 units were shipped and 200,000 followed the second quarter. Much of these orders remained on the shelves of the retailers and RIM was forced to introduce price reductions, from $499 at launch to $300 in September and then $199 in November, due to the low market demand.

Moreover, RIM also appealed to some tricks to increase the sales, by offering a 50% discount in India for a limited period, but that still didn’t help too much. RIM hit the 1 million mark only in March 2012, but it’s total market share until the end of 2011 was pretty depressing.

BlackBerry PlayBook 2 – let bygones be bygones

The first move that RIM took towards evolution was to launch a LTE friendly version of the original PlayBook, hopefully today, in Canada. The “improved” model maintains many features of its older brother, but restricts the storing options to only 32GB, adds a HDMI port and a rear HD video camera, for the rumored price of $549.99 without a contract.

As for the PlayBook 2, RIM plans to widen its horizons as well as the display, according to the Vietnamese website Tinhte. The tablet should ship with a 10-inch display of unknown origins, a 7250 mAh battery and may be also acknowledged by the Blackforest nickname. According to several roadmaps, if RIM choses to go in production with such a device, it will probably arrive on the latter half of 2013.

Although the device itself has been discussed since the launch of the original PlayBook, with RIM leaving the project aside to focus on more important concepts such as the future generation of BlackBerry phones and BB OS 10, the news world is still short on details. From the set of pictures leaked a couple of weeks ago, we’ve noticed a SIM holder which should offer a 3G connectivity to the device. When it comes to 4G/LTE, the only trace we’ve picked is a reference note on one of the pictures, made by the leaker itself.

The pictures clearly show a design 90% based on the first PlayBook model, which can be seen as a bad thing or as a great one. The problem is that people get used to a product and if they don’t like how it looks, and the second generation appears to be the same, big problems will be seen right from launch.

Future competition

As far as the technical specifications list goes, the only escape for RIM would be to maximize the device’s potential by creating a hardware monster, improving the existing operating system or, deliver it under a very attractive price. Until 2013, the competition will be pretty stiff and RIM will have to battle with giants like:

And this is just the short list of the devices that are predicted to be released. Other vendors may drop by until mid-2013, including a new-age Nexus tablet, a plethora of Windows 8 slates and maybe even something new from Motorola in collaboration with Google.

Our verdict is harsh: considering the evidence collected until the moment, and looking at RIM’s behavior, of releasing a 4G flavor of the original PlayBook at an astonishing price, the Canadian vendor will not stand a chance against the aggressive takeover of Microsoft and the continuum dominance of iOS and Android.

 
Author

Alex holds an engineering degree in Telecommunications and has been covering technology as a writer since 2009. Customization is his middle name and he doesn’t like to own stock model gadgets. When he’s away from the keyboard, simpler things like hiking, mountain climbing and having a cold drink make his day.