Will Pricing, Flash Sell RIM’s PlayBook?

Research In Motion’s (s rimm) PlayBook, a 7-inch tablet with Wi-Fi connectivity, arrives on April 19 and can be pre-ordered today through Best Buy (s bby) in the U.S. and Canada. Three models will be available and vary based on internal storage capacities of 16, 32 and 64 GB. RIM has set the price of each to be the same as Apple’s (s aapl) iPad 2: $499, $599 and $699, respectively. In addition to sales through Best Buy, and Future Shop in Canada, RIM has lined up more than two dozen retailers that will carry the tablets.

The cost of RIM’s new tablet falls in the generally expected target range. When I spoke to RIM representatives earlier this year, talk of a $500 price came up, as well as comments like “it will be competitively priced.” RIM has delivered on that front, although fans of the iPad will likely point out that the PlayBook offers a much smaller, 7-inch display with a lower 1024×600 resolution than Apple’s tablet. As a result, some may balk at a $499 tablet. But tablets can’t be judged by specifications alone; the user experience, application ecosystem and even the device’s portability based on screen size are all other factors to consider.

In terms of the user experience, my limited hands-on time with an early version of RIM’s tablet shows an intuitive interface that’s effective to use. The device supports on-screen multitasking, so a video can be playing in one small window while another app is open and viewable. But end users aren’t likely to use multiple apps at the same time on the small screen, so this may not be that much of a competitive advantage.


RIM expects the Playbook’s ability to run Adobe Flash Player 10.1 (s adbe) will make the device stand apart from the iPad, but it’s too early to tell, as Motorola’s Xoom just gained the feature last week through a beta of Flash 10.2. However, the Flash implementation I saw on the Playbook in January ran buttery smooth. That surprised me until I found out why: QNX, the company RIM purchased last year, has spent years integrating Adobe Flash into embedded automobile systems. After buying QNX, RIM used the company’s operating system for its PlayBook and will also use it in future BlackBerry handsets.

By this time next month, we’ll have a good feel for the remaining unknowns that could make or break the PlayBook. How will battery life be for the device with its dual-core processor, and will Flash cause the battery to drain too fast? Will there be enough compelling applications to entice consumers away from competing tablets? And because this is also an enterprise device, will companies decide to adopt the Playbook in the office at a time when 66 percent of Fortune 100 companies have either adopted or tested the iPad? Lastly, will the requirement that a BlackBerry handset use the native email app on PlayBook help or hinder sales?

RIM’s Playbook has the right pieces in place when it comes to pricing and availability, but it’s not yet clear if the remaining pieces of the puzzle will fit.