In the last few days Research in Motion, makers of the iconic Blackberry email device beloved of commercial and industrial Titans (see Alex in The Daily Telegraph), has been parading its new tablet device for tech writers.
Obsessive early adopters will get their chance to test the beast on 19 April. But will they buy?
The signs are not good. Playbook1 launches after iPad2 and is already well in the slipstream of the Apple market leader. The device has a fiddly on/off button and is smaller than the iPad and the Motorola Xoom but not quite small enough to get in a pocket. Screen resolution is judged to be good and it will show Flash unlike the iPad. The counterbalance to that is that battery life looks to be weak and shows why Steve Jobs will not run Flash, draining great battery performance from the 10 hours his device currently boasts.
If the pros and cons are so far relatively even here are three reasons why this device will not take off.
First, the applications that are available are very limited – only some 3,000 against Apple’s 65,000.
Second, the price is pretty much the same as the iPad.
Third – and possibly most remarkable – it doesn’t do email. Well, let’s qualify that a bit – it will if it is tethered to a Blackberry.
This is an astonishing fall from grace from the organisation that gave us email on the move and has been responsible for more accidents than most other devices as people walk into things while checking the latest update. It is amazing that the Health and Safety Executive has not tried to ban it.
This is an example of corporate pitch forking by the opposition as the Apple juggernaut dictates the terms of trade.
In truth Blackberry is launching this device before it is ready and has bowed to pressure either internal or external (or both) to do something. It has been ‘trying to do something’ since the iPhone launched and did the corporate equivalent of Bob Beamon’s long jump in the Mexico Olympics of 1968. That was when a new world record of 29 feet, 2 ½ inches was set, smashing the previous record by an astonishing 21 ¾ inches.
It has toyed with screen only devices and then hybrids with a screen and a slide out keyboard. It has danced to someone else’s music only it seems to have been doing the can-can to fandango music.
Blackberry’s communications have also faltered in this maelstrom of conflicting corporate goals. The company has decided to fight on weak ground rather than dig in deeper with its core business market. Its corporate leaders do not have the touchy-feely sureness that Apple demonstrates. Its narrative has not been compelling. It is flailing around ‘trying to do something’.
Investors may know who Mike Lazaridis is and recognize him in the street but most of us would not. So it was with some curiosity that many of us tech watchers tuned into an extract from an interview with BBC techman Rory Cellan-Jones.
Lazaridis had obviously done his Playbook pitch when Rory turned to Blackberry’s problems with security in India and elsewhere. Lazaridis became rattier and rattier as the interview progressed, moaned about unfair questions and soon called a halt.
At Pitch-Perfect such moments would have been anticipated in our media prep work and the questions gently deflected or answered in such a way as not to trivialise what is a serious issue but to get back to the main point.
The main point here is that Lazaridis and Blackberry are wounded, trying to fight against a tide of scepticism and it shows. He looks hurt and that tells investors and us volumes about the state of Blackberry. Effective media coaching could have avoided that and kept their aim of promoting a product front and centre, even if it is a flawed product.
On his plane on the way home Mr. Lazaridis should reflect on this. He might also reflect on the fact that Bob Beamon’s world record stood for 23 years.