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Why BlackBerry's tepid tablet strategy could be its fatal flaw

Al Sacco | June 4, 2013
BlackBerry is making a significant comeback, but its stance on tablets and the future of the BlackBerry PlayBook could undo any progress it has made.

Ever since BlackBerry first launched its PlayBook tablet back in April 2011, the company's tablet strategy has been flawed.

Here are some real head-scratchers: First, the BlackBerry PlayBook shipped without native e-mail and PIM apps, even though BlackBerry, then Research In Motion (RIM), knew its e-mail, messaging and business-related focus was what attracted the bulk of its users.

 BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins
BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins

In addition, the PlayBook did not at first support the proprietary BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) IM app, one of the most popular BlackBerry features. And the PlayBook was deemed an "enterprise-grade tablet" by BlackBerry months before its official release, but it couldn't even connect directly to the company's BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) software. (PlayBook users had to employ Microsoft's ActiveSync technology to connect to corporate resources.)

BlackBerry eventually released the BlackBerry Bridge software to let users with BlackBerry smartphones connect to corporate resources and use BBM, but the app was buggy and did not provide a high-quality user experience.

Can You Be a Mobile Leader Without a Cutting-Edge Tablet?

BlackBerry has always been flying by the seat of its pants when it comes to tablets. Yet these days tablets are more popular than ever, and BlackBerry appears to be continuing on the same directionless path.

In late April, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins made the following comments at a conference in Los Angeles:

"In five years I don't think there'll be a reason to have a tablet anymore...Tablets themselves are not a good business model."

The PlayBook tablet was launched nearly a year before Heins took the chief executive role at BlackBerry, so it's unclear if the company would have launched the PlayBook at all under his leadership. But the CEO's recent comments suggest he does not see much of a future for his company in the tablet market. This could explain why the PlayBook has not received any software updates since February, despite hinting in January, at its BlackBerry 10 launch event, that the PlayBook would receive an update to BlackBerry 10 in the not-too-distant future. (The BlackBerry PlayBook runs the "BlackBerry Tablet OS," which is built on the same code foundation as BlackBerry 10, but is a much earlier version.)

Thanks to a recent tweet from the official Twitter account of BlackBerry Mexico that was promptly removed, it's rumored that the PlayBook could get BlackBerry 10 in the coming weeks, though no mention of the much-anticipated software update was made in early May at BlackBerry Live, the company's largest event of the year.

I reached out to BlackBerry for comments on the possibility and for answers to more detailed questions about its tablet strategy. Though a company rep promised to get back to me before the end of last week, I still haven't received any related information. (I'll update this post accordingly if I do get some.)


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