It’s fair to say that Blackberry maker RIM’s tablet offering, the 7-inch PlayBook, has not been a commercial success. Launched in the UK at a £399 price point last June, by October the 16GB model’s price had been slashed to £249 in the face of underwhelming demand and last week RIM cut the price again – this time to £169.
In the VAT-free US the asking price is even lower, just $199 – exactly the same as Amazon’s Android-powered Kindle Fire. The two devices are both 7-inch tablets with 1Ghz dual-core processors and 1024×600 displays but the PlayBook has twice the internal storage (16GB vs 8GB), twice the RAM (1GB vs 512MB) and both front (3Mp) and rear (5Mp) cameras (the Kindle Fire has neither). If Amazon struggles to break-even on the Kindle Fire, preferring instead to make its money selling content, then the current selling price of the higher-spec PlayBook must represent a significant loss for RIM.
To counter the growing consensus that it couldn’t give the devices away, RIM has started doing just that. Specifically, the Canadian firm is targeting developers in a last-ditch effort to rescue its ailing tablet platform from the squeeze being applied by Apple’s iPad and the myriad Android pretenders. All attendees at Blackberry’s Devcon in Amsterdam next week will be rewarded with a shiny new PlayBook and yesterday the company announced that it would give a device to every Android developer that repackaged an existing Android app for distribution on Blackberry App World (the PlayBook is capable of running Android apps non-natively). Today that offer was extended to include any developer publishing any kind of app (native, Android or Adobe AIR) on App World before the 13th February.
This industrial scale bribing of developers represents a concerted push to revitalise the PlayBook platform with the upcoming release of version 2.0 of the device’s QNX-based operating system. Increasing the number of tablet apps available on Blackberry App World is a core part of this strategy. For Android developers it’s an opportunity to get hold of what is by most accounts a decent bit of hardware for the minimal effort of repackaging an existing app.