Research In Motion Ltd. has delayed a key update to its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, a setback that risks putting the Canadian tech giant at a disadvantage as it fights for consumers during the holiday selling season.
PlayBook users will now have to wait until February for a piece of software that brings e-mail, calendar and other capabilities to the tablet. Since its launch in April, the PlayBook has been criticized for not coming equipped with these features. RIM had originally promised an update in the summer, then pushed that date back to the fall, and now into 2012.
RIM announced the latest delay on its official blog Tuesday evening. When the update does come out, the company said, it will not include BlackBerry Messenger, RIM's ultra-popular instant-messaging application.
The revised timing deals two blows to RIM. Not only does it mean the company will not be putting its most-polished version of the PlayBook in front of consumers in time for Christmas, but the February schedule likely puts RIM on a collision course with the expected launch date of the third generation of Apple's market-leading iPad. The delay is also likely to amplify the criticism that the Waterloo, Ont.-based BlackBerry-maker is struggling to bring new products to market.
"I don't think it's the PlayBook [software]delay in itself that's important, but rather the repeated execution delays," said Kris Thompson, an analyst with National Bank Financial.
The next few months will prove critical to RIM's chances of regaining its footing in the smart phone and tablet markets, which are increasingly dominated by Apple's products and products running on Google's Android operating system.
RIM hopes to catch up to its rivals next year with the introduction of BBX, a new operating system for its tablets and phones that the company promises will be light-years ahead of the current BlackBerry software. But RIM's recent string of delayed or botched product launches appears to be slowly eroding confidence in the company's ability to spark a turnaround.
"Sadly, this is about the nail in the coffin in my eyes," says Kerry Morrison, the CEO of Toronto-based application developer Endloop Studios. The company's failure to bring the update for PlayBook – and its inability to include with it the BlackBerry Messenger, one RIM's most popular software applications – raises questions about its ability to do BBX, he said.
RIM's presence in the tablet market is especially vulnerable because consumers are about to be flooded with more PlayBook alternatives than ever before, including sleek devices by Samsung and Motorola that run on Android, and cheaper media-oriented tablets such as Amazon.com's $200 Kindle Fire and the Kobo Vox.
"The tablet space is dominated by Apple and developers continue to prioritize iPad over competing platforms," says Kunal Gupta, CEO of app developer Polar Mobile. He added, however, that the PlayBook software update is geared primarily towards users, rather than developers.
But both users and developers will now be keeping a close eye on RIM to see whether its new line of BBX smart phones will also suffer delays. The company had once promised the first such devices in the first quarter of 2012, but have not re-confirmed that timeline recently.
"In the technology market, you only have so many chances to get things right before consumers and investors stop believing in you, and RIM's recent trend has been heavy on promises and relatively light on actual delivery," says Carmi Levy, an independent Canadian tech analyst.