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Eric Zeman
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RIM PlayBook's Big Weakness: BlackBerry Required

The way that corporate email works on the PlayBook tablet, as shown in a demo video published by Research In Motion, looks like a disaster in the making.

RIM has been posting a series of videos that show off the features, capabilities, and performance of the PlayBook tablet, which is set to hit the market later this quarter. The latest video walks users through corporate email on the PlayBook -- after all, corporate users are the ones being targeted by RIM for the PlayBook.

The PlayBook will first launch in a Wi-Fi only configuration (Sprint will sell a WiMax version this summer). That means the PlayBook can only snag emails and other data when in range of Wi-Fi hotspots. Email, contacts, and calendar data are not "live" on the PlayBook as they are on a regular BlackBerry. In fact, the only way to access live corporate PIM data is to tether a BlackBerry to the PlayBook via Bluetooth. The PlayBook will then mirror whatever data is on the BlackBerry.

In the video, a RIM engineer walks us through how this works. He reads emails on the PlayBook, which are then marked as read on the BlackBerry. He deletes an email from the PlayBook, which then vanishes from the BlackBerry's screen.

When the two devices break their secure, encrypted Bluetooth connection, the PlayBook loses all access to corporate email, calendar, and contact data.

RIM believes its model is going to work, especially where security is concerned. Alec Taylor, RIM's vice president of product marketing for business alliance, said in an interview in January, "CIO's are excited about the PlayBook because they understand this security model." How is the PlayBook secure? Well, there's no corporate data actually stored on the device. A BlackBerry is required for full enterprise support. Without one, the PlayBook has no enterprise access.

I understand this viewpoint on the surface, but think that deep down it spells trouble for RIM.

First, by necessitating a BlackBerry for email access on the PlayBook, it requires users to bring two devices with them. The PlayBook will be a useless corporate tool (as far as basic communications in concerned) without a BlackBerry.

Second, it will take longer to use. PlayBook users will have to activate the connection between the BlackBerry and tablet before email can be checked. It'll be much faster for these users to simply read the email on their handset instead.

Third, by tethering corporate email to a BlackBerry, RIM is preventing non-BlackBerry users from picking up the PlayBook. Why would RIM effectively choose to ignore all but a small segment of users? That's amazingly narrow-minded. How successful do you think the iPad would have been if it required an iPhone for certain features?

Current Analysis's Avi Greengart said in a report last month about the PlayBook, "The PlayBook is not a fully standalone device…it is astonishing that RIM would go this route."

After watching this video, I fully agree.

If RIM wants this product to survive, it needs to find, develop, or use an alternative solution that allows regular "Joes" to use the PlayBook as an email machine (and I'm not talking Webmail) without a BlackBerry.

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