Smartly priced BlackBerry PlayBook to go after Apple’s core tablet offerings

Nov 10, 2010
Finance

Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs may be writing off Research In Motion (RIMM) and its BlackBerry, but RIM is upbeat about its outlook, with its new tablet and a new price on the touchscreen Torch from AT&T (T). RIM is taking on iPad with its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet with a price designed to beat the […]

Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs may be writing off Research In Motion (RIMM) and its BlackBerry, but RIM is upbeat about its outlook, with its new tablet and a new price on the touchscreen Torch from AT&T (T).

RIM is taking on iPad with its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet with a price designed to beat the $499 for an iPad.

In an interview in Seoul, RIM co-Chief Executive Officer Jim Balsillie, who last month warned of Apple’s “distortion field,” told Jun Yang at Bloomberg/BusinessWeek:

“The product will be very competitively priced.” He declined to be more specific.

The Between the Lines blog at ZDNet says RIM and any other tablet maker have little choice but to price below iPad. Larry Dignan, editor-in-chief of ZDNet said:

“Any tablet that doesn’t start at $499 is doomed. I’ve been pretty vocal that Android tablets need to sell at a discount — especially with 7-inch screens. RIM, which will sell the PlayBook as an enterprise device, may have more leeway on pricing, but not much. After all, RIM’s PlayBook has a 7-inch screen.”

The new RIM tablet is scheduled to hit the market in the United States and South Korea in the first quarter of 2011 and then to expand globally in the second quarter.

Balsillie said RIM may sell the Playbook at Target (TGT) and Best Buy (BBY) in the United States as well as through the carriers themselves.

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The field will become crowded with Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Samsung Electronics (005930.KS), Motorola (MOT), and Microsoft (MSFT) entering a market in which Apple has set sales records. More than four million iPads have been sold and Verizon (VZ) has started selling its first iPads (linked with the MiFi mobile hotspot), seen as a prelude to a Verizon iPhone in 2011.

Jobs has ridiculed it, but RIM’s tablet will have a 7-inch screen. The Apple-man has said small screens such as planned for the PlayBook are “dead on arrival.” He maintains that consumers want a bigger screen, such as iPad’s 9.7-inch display.

But Balsillie promised that the iPad-dominant tablet market will “change when we’re in the market.” Such changes have happened before, albeit in the other direction. Only a couple of years ago, BlackBerry dominated smartphones and then came the iPhone, and now the Android from Google (GOOG).

PlayBook will rely on Adobe (ADBE) Flash, also under fire from Jobs. “From what we’ve heard, RIM’s Playbook is essentially a vessel for Adobe’s platform — Flash and AIR. RIM will rely heavily on Adobe’s software to deliver apps and other platforms. Without Flash, RIM’s Playbook might as well be a frisbee,” Dignan said.

RIM is pinning its future on the PlayBook to boost its revenues as the competition eclipses the BlackBerry smartphone.

Balsille was also upbeat about the Torch, RIM’s first smartphone with a touchscreen and full QWERTY keyboard.

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He said it is “hugely good” that AT&T has cut the price in half for the Torch to $99.99 for a two-year contract.

“That’s a dream come true,” he said. “New pricing, new promo, right into the holiday season — what can I say? I couldn’t be happier.”

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